If you had asked me two weeks ago what I’d have imagined the week of PC/Cameroon’s 50th anniversary would be like I would have probably frowned before telling you “a giant, horrible mess”. I was being forced to stay with a host family, nothing for our booth was completed, and most of all I was worried I was going to miss my friends thanks to the shacking up situation. I was sure it was going to be a disaster. A no good, rotten, boring, and blatant disaster.
In short: I ate my words. And I topped them with cheese.
I had the good fortune of being place with an amazing embassy family. Both husband and wife were Georgia natives as inviting as their southern roots had encouraged them to be. Being led through the house was like a ride at Disney Land. Here is where they keep the Pringles; there is the microwave. You’ll find everything for a mixed drink on your left; the bowls for ice cream are on your right. The hot water in this bathroom gets too hot sometimes; here’s where they keep the bubble bath if I feel like a glass of wine and a soak in the tub.
For all the crap I give Cameroon, it has given me perspective and appreciation. As we were led around the house my roommate for the week and I would turn to each other, wide-eyed, and mouth “Oh. My. God.” over and over (there may have been some jazz hands and jumping up and down, as well). We were in 7th heaven, overwhelmed even, at the way these people lived. The way we used to live.
I found myself the third night, white Russian in hand and fresh out of a bubble bath, messing around mindlessly on the internet while the air conditioning fought off the approaching dry-season heat of the capital. At some point, I looked up and started laughing in a house with nobody else in it. I couldn’t believe how varied my life had been in the last six months. Nguti’s tiny small village feel, Bali’s big city vibe, and now the presence of western life in this family’s house. It was hard to believe I was still sitting in the middle of Africa.
The week marched on, every day better than the last. The actual event, the Swearing In, went off without a hitch. Madame Chantal Biya, first lady, graced our event with her presence and even shook hands with almost all the volunteers. Unfortunately, I’ve washed my hands since our encounter and will now never be able to make a tiny, coiffed clone of Chantal to keep in my pocket, despite my overwhelming wish to. The whole thing was recorded on television, marking the 5th time I’ve made Cameroonian news and someone has called me minutes later to tell me they saw me on the tv.
Thanksgiving Day happened to fall on that week. My initial plans were to hide. I was going to lie to my host family and say I was spending the day with volunteers. I was going to lie to volunteers and say I was spending it with my embassy hosts. Upon their insistence, I instead decided to forgo my gut reaction and hopped in the car slated to arrive at a fellow American’s house for dinner and drinks.
I’m glad I did. My poor taste buds were put to work with turkey, cranberry sauce, mixed drinks, pecan pie and a lovely pumpkin cheesecake topped with pumpkin ice cream. Every bite tasted like home. The night was rounded off with a phone call to my parents and an early bedtime. A better day couldn’t have been planned.
Though the holiday has passed, the feeling of thankfulness has stuck with me. I think the reality check of being in an American environment for a week helped me to realize that I have a whole score of things in my day to day life, both here in Cameroon and back in North America, to be thankful for. Sometimes you need a little push to see all the good things you have going on, and I was gifted with a big ol’ shove.