Do you hear what I hear?

The music started before 7am today.  It’s now midnight and it is still going.  And it does not promise to stop.  Baptisms, apparently, are the Cameroonian equivalent of Carnival.  Except you’re not invited.  Where do people find speakers this loud?

On an unrelated note, I got a message from my niece Alice Rose awhile back.  She is six.  She said she was having trouble sleeping (I can identify).  She said she couldn’t stop thinking about how far away I am and how I will be gone for so long.  My response to her seemed worth sharing:

Hi Alice, I hope you are able to sleep better. I am thinking of you too. I have the picture you gave me (the one we found in your new car the day we drove to Batavia) up on my wall at my house in Bafia, the town where I currently live in Cameroon. I hope you don’t mind, but I gave the other one you drew to my host family (the Nkengues), along with some of the pictures GrandBob took during your dad’s graduation. It made me proud that even though you’re not here with me I can still take a little piece of you and your brother everywhere with me.

I am enjoying myself very much and learning a lot here, though at times it is hard. Can you imagine if you went to a new school and everyone else spoke in a different way than you, and you could only understand them a lot of the time and had to work very hard to get people to understand you? That’s what it is like here. Most of the people who live in this part of Africa speak French, and very few people speak English. It is similar to the kind of French your mom and dad know but their accents and expressions are very different. It takes a lot of studying, and some days I understand more than others, but I’m getting better slowly.

I am also learning about how to start small savings and loan cooperatives, which sounds fancy but is basically a way for people to save and borrow money so they can plan for the future. In the U.S. we take a lot of these things for granted, but in many other places in the world people cannot borrow money easily and do not save it for the future, which makes things like getting an education, buying medicine, or just having food to eat every day very hard. But that’s why I’m here: to help people poorer than us have the opportunity to make choices that we take for granted.

I think about you and your brother and your mom and dad and the new baby a lot. Have you gotten to go out in the sailboat again? How does your new lifejacket fit? Are you practicing your violin? Did you get my postcard yet? The baby must be due any day now. Please give her a big hug and a kiss to her from me. And please do the same for the rest of your family. I miss you guys.

I forget how far away I am sometimes too, given that I’m surrounded by 42 other Americans with whom I can appreciate, laugh at, and commiserate on the peculiarities of the new culture in which we find ourselves.  But writing that email reminded me of just how far removed I am from the life I knew just a few months ago.

My brother’s family is also in the middle of major changes – a new job, a new house, and a new baby all in the last couple of months.  And I haven’t talked with him or his family since I arrived here, which means they know nothing of my life here.  While I’ve gone a number of months without talking to one or another family member before (this might seem strange, but this is just the way my family is), I don’t think as much has happened in such a short amount of time.

If they were to listen really closely, though, I’m pretty sure they could hear damn these speakers.  That will at least give them a pretty good idea of what my life has been the last 17+ hours.


2 thoughts on “Do you hear what I hear?

  1. If your niece ever gets this, I’d be curious to hear what her response is. When I was talking to my niece this evening, I was explaining Mamfe to her and told her that they speak English here. You know that has been one thing that has been hard for me to swallow about my post. The 7-year-old’s response? “Wow, that’s lucky. That must make things easier for you.” Out of the mouth of babes, right? A reminder about focusing on the positive and not the negative.

    That being said, I am still looking for the positive aspect of music that blares when you are trying to sleep. This morning, my alarm went off at 5:45am and the music was STILL playing from the night before. Definitely going to take some getting used to.

  2. Andy,

    Listening now…

    Alice says, “Its OK that you gave away the picture that I made. My lifejacket fits well. I am practicing my violin, and I should practice today. Yes, I did get your postcard. Thank you. Dad told me that it was your birthday yesterday. Happy Birthday! I love you.”


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