As I sat at Prescafe I saw a woman and her daughter, laughing over plates of Westernized food, catching up on the past, and enjoying each other’s company as it seemed only a parent and their child could.
As they stretched their arms out from themselves in attempt to take a photograph, I in the midst of moving seats offered in passing to take the snapshot for them. They each looked into the camera, matching smiles stretched across their faces, and on the count of the three I captured the moment, brief and fleeting, on film.
Along with a thank-you the woman extended to me an invitation to her home. Hosting weekly pizza nights for expatriates, she was familiar with Peace Corps and had recognized me by the helmet swung over my arm, a necessity of motorcycle transport. Her house was always open, she told me, a stranger, and I was welcome there any time.
That was my first introduction to Karen Jackson. It wouldn’t be my last; I took her up on her offer of pizza (and various other meals) many times in the two short months we knew each other.
Karen was a person with an infectious smile, an infectious laugh. She was bright and effervescent and the world was a better place with her in it. I was never greeted at her home with anything less than a whole-hearted hug, a laugh on her lips and a sparkle in her eyes.
Karen and I spent many mornings chatting before the rest of the home was up. We shared stories of family and friends and life lessons learned over mugs of coffee, steaming in the cool North Western morning. We sat elbows on the kitchen table, or feet propped up on the veranda chairs. We talked about our favorite foods to cook, and our least favorites. We often explored our own paths to Cameroon and how it was that we managed to both find new parts of life in a place as old as Africa, she retelling her call to missionary work and I explaining my draw to service through Peace Corps.
If Karen was anything, she was a mother. To children both biological and adopted, she was rock, a support system, a listening ear. She took in the Peace Corps volunteers as though they were her own, offering up beds to many over the years. She sheltered us, as temporary orphans, when our own families were thousands of miles away. She never spoke of her children with anything less than bountiful pride. She wanted to have her children see the world in a new way, through new eyes, and regaled me with tales of going the extra mile to make sure they learned. A pottery class arranged with the local kiln, horseback rides to explore endemic flora—her dedication to her children and their educations knew no bounds.
She was a woman of faith, morality, and gumption and the world’s flame burns a little dimmer because she is no longer with us. Her unexpected passing is nothing short of tragedy to those who knew her in her various homes of Mamfe, Bamenda, and Grass Valley. She was a kind woman, and the kind of woman more of us should strive to be. My only regret in knowing Karen is that our acquaintance was so short. As her family and friends say goodbye we trust that it is only to her physical self. Her memory will be imprinted, as long as I have a glimmer of Cameroon still dancing within me, on my heart.
Thank you, Karen, for the privilege of knowing you.