Friday, March 21, 2014

ca sticks good

so a lot of people say i have a slight canadian accent when i speak french. my mother will deny this to the bitter end, as she feels it may reflect on her ability to teach me the "mother tongue" but alas, i may have just picked it up in Quebec and it stuck. ca sticks. can't help it. after spending a lot of time in africa, i tend to pick up the africanized phrases you often hear around here. i have caught myself speaking like this, and might need to re-immerse myself in some pure french in france to cure my language ails: 

"Il faut gagner la solution" you have to find the solution...not win it. i read this in emails and job application letters all the time.

"Va suivre la télé!" you watch tv to see if they found the malaysian plane, you don't follow it.

"Je vous arrive en 10 min" i'm almost there...but, this is just bad grammar. 

"Tu m'as absenté hier!" what, you had malaria and absented me?

-Tu le connais depuis quand?
"bah, depuis depuis"

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Real African pickup lines

If African men are committed to one single thing, it's hitting on white girls. Even if the white girls says she's married, not interested, sick with malaria...

Here are the highlights:

1. i was born with one leg but my uncle my doctor says i will always have boys. I'll make you many boys.
2. you are only sortof married, because you arent opening your heart to an african man
3. i am a boxer. your husband? KO
4. i will play drums for you every day. every day. 
5. being a soul mate is something you learn. being in love with a cameroonian is something you have to learn
6. you don't like alcoholics? i will drink water, wine and beer for you, no alcohol 
7. we can really get to know eachother through skype. i like to skype
8. love conquers distance. as long as you buy me a plane ticket, i am there.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2nd time malaria ain't so bad...

soooo i guess when you're immune system gets down, let's say after a sleepless night of saying goodbye to Yaoundé, the old Malaria parasites can creep back up on ya....but i am back. to health and to Internet. inshallah.

for my last friday in cameroon, my new friends couldn't just let me get to bed early to board my flight sober and well rested. instead, we had to make the rounds of the bars and do a proper goodbye to our haunts. a motley crew of coworkers and friends went back to the buncker, the scene of women's day debauchery where i apparently made a lot of promises. ...just like how my dad will invite you to thanksgiving after a few gin and tonics, i told maria the waitress i would come back and eat THE BIGGEST FISH YOU HAVE. and i did. and it was delicious. and i paid 6 bucks for it.

don't just choose the fish...feel the fish
we stopped by the route 66, the american bar across the street from my house where the owner, walter, who speaks a really weird non-accented english made us re-enact the previous thursday, when we were urged to challenge these poor deep pocketed koreans to a disgusting shot drinking contest. they lost, and they lost hard. pohw koweans. (thankfully on this night, no one threw their car keys in my face saying, "you know how to drive? you seem less drunk than me" and "we can't leave the car here" making me drive a very sllllow deliberately unsober 500m to our door, screaming look at my White Girl chauffeur and making it through the narrow gate, no damage!).
anyway, there was some pleasant outdoor pool playing in a leafy parking lot/garden/open toilet area, where i laid my best pickup lines (so, play pool in a parking lot often?) on an adorable belgian who replied: "we have met before. in kinshasa, we had lunch, you don't remember me." woops.

anyway, then came food finding mission, which took us to this crazy kindof meat market (not that kindof meat market) thing, where these guys have flattened chickens piled up like books next to an open fire. they are sweating, handling money and machetes and chopping. you get pile of meat with bones and toothpicks and onions on a metal plate. napkins cost extra. one guy has the most delicious beef chunk that he slices for you to try. this is the christian side, because apparently there is a muslim side, an entire are of steps where the guys with the long robes and hats come and set up their carpets, take off their shoes and do their morning prayers. i do pray that i don't miss my flight to libreville...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

international women's day hangover

so they really take this women's day thing seriously. and this year, it fell on a saturday. before i left the office on friday, i stopped in to say hi to a british intern, who is just about the closest person socially and age-ly to me at work. i asked her what she was doing over the weekend and she may have thought i was asking her out? her co-workers loudly shuffling papers awkwardly. 
she came over on saturday night in her own designed women's day dress. i didn't really like the pattern this year (orange and browns, with a woman hugging a cameroun outline) so i just wore a regular african dress. her boyfriend, as it turns out, is this brawny, tatooed, rather famous musician who has adoring fans and stuff. as it turns out, he is friends with the guy i am staying with, rizbo, who is also a rather famous musician. they have some 90s style african rap album. lots of neon. anyway, eric, the boyfriend of the british girl kelly, being the gentleman that he is, accompanies us to a terrasse bar/night club/restaurant/cabaret (they are serious about this part)/fish grill (also serious about this part). as he knows the owner and is somewhat of a celebrity he settles us into a table, which is unfortunately amid all these expats, and goes off to his own evening. the thing about women's day is you're supposed to be without your man. 
the expats are all saggy eyed drunk fat american mommies whom you know just from looking at them are peace corps volunteers who met cameroonians and never left. not our cup of tea. we nod gratiously and order a round of boosters: 1l bottle of whiskey and coke. excellent discovery. kelly turns out to be a hoot. she's an intern, which means she is surviving on 150$/month. i give her big ups for that and buy all our drinks. i mean, she is from a sailing, designer dog raising family and in yaoundé, saving up for a fridge. i'm very impressed. the american girls finally leave and kelly remarks how just about every american you meet abroad is whale-sized. it's really true. me, i'm french. 
so about 80% of the clientele are cameroonian women in their women's day print dresses, which, are just very unflattering mumus. i don't understand why they don't share the same sexy fashion sense as congolese. the waitresses are running around with giant plates of grilled fish and bananas. super friendly. ridiculously friendly. especially when i tip them (a very expat thing to do, whatever). i am invited to come back for a free beer tomorrow. and if i want to take a uniform i can wait tables. thanks, maria. 
i have never seen such positive energy, and kelly and i are remarking that what makes today especially wonderful is that no guys are obscenely hitting on us. the biggest perk of women's day, they leave you alone! no sooner said than some ghanains show up with their djembes and start uttering crap about being our soul mates. kelly casually mentions her boyfriend the famous musician, they back off. what about me? i play with my fake wedding ring, norwegian oil tycoon is home with the kids. they say that if we were single, they would have played their drums for us, but since we are married...well that's not right, mister. this is all women's day, not just the single ladies. so they set up their drums and start banging away, drowning out the crappy nightclub music. one guy has wrist maracas. and the dude with the ubiquitous creepy marionette shows up to dirty dance it everywhere. kelly is scared of these marionettes like people are of clowns and she is right. i am taking photos with my 10 year old blackberry and the creepy marionette head is always the only thing in focus. 
next thing we know, women are coming up to us, asking permission to dance to the beats...our permission? what for? go girl! and there's this insane dance off with some of the craziest african style dance i have seen. women in trances, giggly shaking and stuff. tables are moved, the dance floor has comed to us, it is like me and kelly are royalty being entertained by our court. more boosters please, and the waitress is dancing while serving us. 
i finally can't hold it in and need to go to the restroom (remember: singular). i love that the first thing you see upon entering this establishment is a pile of fly-infested whole fish of which huge sweaty women are smashing with cleavers. there are women everywhere, dancing, drinking, they are super friendly, they grab my hand or call me over, ask for my name and number "let's hang out and go the market!" i have 20 new bffs. in the bathroom i accidentally walk in on a woman (obvi no locks on the doors and she hasn't mastered the squat and hold the door stance). i am profusely apologizing over the stall wall and she's all, ain't no thang, it's our day, where are you sitting? oh, you're the ones who brought your entourage? uhh, not really, but apparently the whole club is talking about us. she comes out and dances with her jangly bracelets and earrings and she is complementing my hair, asking if it's real, how do i curl it. 
finally, it's past 2 am, the place starts to empty out, the drummer's hands are red and tired, and they pack up and leave. we should head back. kelly's boyfriend wanders in, all, oh, my phone was off baby, sorry i wasn't in touch and tells us about this djembe drum jam he was at, and we would have loved it. what did you girls do? eh not much, just drank a bunch of boosters, let's go home.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

the rather enjoyable fabric buying experience for once

so it's international women's day, and i don't have an international women's day dress! i'm such an idiot for leaving my march 8 congo dress at home. stupid, stupid. so i need to go to the market. probably best to not go alone, so olivier who is half my age and eager to impress says he'll take me. it's funny that he has no idea where to buy the fabric, but i do, so in reality i'm the one taking him. but anyway, we first have to meet in mokolo. i go to the street to catch a taxi and there are a bunch of women there, in the women's day garb. and it's true, this is probably the best day of the year to walk around as a women. everyone is all, joyeuse fete! and holding up 2 hands like it's your birthday, and all the mamans are super friendly and ask you where you dress is, and how drunk you are going to be tonight. this is our day. 
i've learned the practice of hailing a cab here. a dude in a busted up corolla slows down and you race to the window with everyone else, and scream where you want to go and a fare. so, makolo 200! and the guy will either imperceptibly nod, or lean on the horn, which means get the fuck in (and the rule is 2 people in the front passenger seat, 4 in the back) or he'll stare angrily ahead and basically drive over your feet. 
i still have the problem with the white person tax though, because the other day someone was all, bastos 100! and they get in, and i'm all, yes me too! bastos 100 and i go to open the door and he's already driven over my toenails. so it's kinda sad that it goes like: the other people: bastos 100!
they get in.
me: unenthusiastically bastos 400 :(
so we're standing there, we scream at a few but no dice. after a while, no more taxis are coming in our direction. the roads are all blocked for the big parade with the first lady. so a nice old lady who is standing next to me, who introduces herself as Lizbeth, is going to the same place, she wants to exchange the dress she already bought for her mother. i have no idea where i am going so i follow her and we walk. we cross a few police blockades and meander through the streets until we are in this crazy busy neighborhood and we grab a makolo 100. lizbeth is nice though, and she negotiates for the both of us. she even pays my way. but we get stuck in completely stalled traffic. we're sweating our faces off. the windows are rolled up, but the handle thing is missing, it's just a ring bolt nut thing and i'm clawing at it with my fingers and lizbeth goes, monsieur, can we open the window? and i think oh? electric windows? no, he hands over the opener: a long piece of metal that slides perfectly into the nut and you can open the window and you return it when you're done. nice. so no one is moving anywhere, except for the motorbikes who weave through the cars and i'm all, lizbeth, should we take a motorcycle? and she's all, not unless you want to die! and just then, a motorcycle comes out of nowhere and slams into a car, ejecting the 3 passengers and all the vegetable contents of their bags all over the hoods of 3 different vehicles. ok, let's not take a motorcycle. 
we pull up to a crazy market area with the typical goat heads and live chickens and stuff. one guy is trying to stuff 11 chickens into the trunk of a taxi. they are not tied up or anything, and each time he puts the last one in, one jumps out, and this goes on until he lowers, and lowers the trunk, holding the chickens in with one hand. as soon as they are all in, he slams the trunk closed but one makes a last ditch escape. decapitated. blood. gross.
olivier takes me to meet his grandfather, who lives in a part of the market where they sell giant aluminum pots with lids. it seems they them in cameroun, but then all these malians sit and file them all day with these huge long files. filing an aluminum pot sounds like 1000 nails on 1000 chalkboards. it's terrible. nonstop. all. day. long. i can't even listen to what the guy is saying, the hairs on my back are twitching. i need to get out of here. i'm sweaty, dizzy, completely hung over.

the guys who sell fabric are all muslims with with the little hats and the long dresses and chin beards. they have shady little stands where you can slowly, patiently look for what you want. they are actually helpful,  quite the change from chaotic shopping for fabric in kinshasa. and even though they are ripping me off, and stern hard bargainers, it's half the price of congo, too. i bought fabric with a chicken motif on it, in honor of my trunk trapped friends. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

get a dog

so a common problem in africa is that your night guard sleeps through what you actually need him awake for. the people i am staying with in yaoundé got a dog. not to attack the robbers, but to wake up the night guard so he can attack the robbers. 
the dog, titos, is a mutty african street dog mixed with insane. totally cute though. they got a trainer who was actually able to calm him down some, but he's pretty much nuts. also, he has a foot fetish. wherever you are, he just places his head on your feet. which is cute. until he bites them and jumps in your face.

he spends all day in his cage in the garage so he's pretty wound up when i come home. so i've decided to do him a favor and take him for walks. which is brilliant. africans are terrified of dogs. mortified. i exit the gate and it's like a nuclear bomb radius around me. everyone crosses the street or hides. this is fantastic! i can go anywhere! how did i never think of this. 
the easiest place to go though, is actually the dead end where the office is, which is like, 100m away, which is why i get no exercise while i am here. because when i walk to work people actually stop and pick me up and i'm all, no, really, i can walk, it's just over there and they go no, there are corpses in the gutter and i'm all, what is a corpse going to do, really...anyway, once you take titos out he gets pretty chill and you can actually let him off the leash, and he trots happily around. which i do, especially at the dead end, which is a dead end because some rich lebanese guy was sick of people driving in front of his morbidly huge mansion and so he built a wall. he literally just built a wall, so the street ends and that's it. the house is this really ugly tile and guilden arabian style crap, with a hedge/flower arrangement that seems to be depicting a lebanese flag or something. anyway, titos saw one of those tri-color iguanas go through there and went totally apeshit. disappeared into the hedges like a tasmanian devil. flower petals and leaves everywhere, just caddyshacking this landscaping. so i chase after him, titos! titos! and he runs back to the wwf office where he pees on the country director who sees me and screams, "is that your dog? he smells like garbage" titos does smell like garbage. like he rolled around in cadaver juice or this guy doesn't know who i am because he was out sick when i made the rounds at the i just have to lay low for 9 more days...    

Sunday, March 9, 2014

things that cannot be unseen: friday night in yaoundé

i taught a weeklong course in yaoundé as soon as friday noon hit, i could tell my students had the itch to just pack up and go drinking. i chatted with the 2 younger guys from the ministry of forests, asking them what one does on fridays in yaoundé. 
we drink! 
can i come along?
of course!
so i meet them a few hours later at some roadside half closed chicken rotisserie place near the university. you kinda just serve yourself from the big cooler. everyone drinks guiness in bottles, it's digusting. like some sort of rotten molasses beer or something. they do not know what guiness is. 
we're having a sortof intense bushmeat conversation and i'm getting devoured by a mosquito. one little fucker is just eating me alive, despite the tropical mega strength bug juice. as usual, no one else is prey just my sweet european blood. they don't believe there is a mosquito even after i show them the giant welts on my ankles. we decide to go somewhere else. 
to the standard central african night club recipe: music so loud it's distorted you can barely recognize it, fog, laser lights, giant bottles of beer and someone grilling chickens out front. having been to places like this before i know what the bathrooms are like. it's a bathROOM. i.e. one closet space with some urinals and busted up turlet, all together and jolly. i'm already regretting my second beer and scoping out where it could possibly be. out next to the dance floor is a door, 4 1/2 feet above the ground, that seems to have missed the staircase going up to it, a few more feet away. an african architect woopsie. the men kind of gymnastics their way up to the threshold whereas the women go up the stairs and make a leap of faith onto this little ledge to go in.
this guy oliver had already went and i asked him, are the women and men separate or is it a communal thing in there. and he's all don't worry, it's totally fine, the women's stall are separate. do you want me to go with you?
no it's ok, i can handle it. so i go up the stairs and everyone at our table is like, cheering me on, take the jump! and i make it and i push the door open and gaaaaaaahhhh! i was like in a detective tv show, the first person who opens the door to find the corpse of my husband or something, horrified eyes, covering my mouth with a hankerchief and turning away in tears. that was me, though it was infinitely worse. and it wasn't just the smell, it was this huge black penis almost in my face, something that belongs on a horse. yeah, separate bathrooms, there are stalls at the end but it's a parade of dongs and guys who are like, heeeeeyyy white girl! i need to get the hell out of here so i go back out the door, but there are all these people coming in the ledge is single file, so i shuffle along the ledge in the other direction, and i'm backed up against the wall, like a jumper on the 76th floor who needs to be talked down. olivier comes over and i'm screaming over the music "that is so not my definition of separate!" and he's like oh come on, and he carries me back to the door and shoves me back in there. i make my way to a piece of broken porcelain that can't even hold the liquid inside it, i pee and it all squirts out a crack on the side on my ankles. i would have been better in an alley. i come out and all my peeps from our table are there like, yaaaay! you made it! and we're having some sort of party in this disgusting place, where we celebrate midnight, which is now international women's day. yaaaaay.
after finally leave, it's a whole mess of taxis at this roundabout. and i'm such a white bitch because i really have to pee, and i want to get home like, now. and well, if you have enough money (3$) you can basically commandeer your own taxi, with the poor fools inside it. so i find one and i'm only half apologizing to the other passengers as i whip out my 2000 franc bill, which means my stop is first, and completely in the other direction and so they can either come along for the ride or try their luck elsewhere. sorry suckas. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

the maid

so the maid who comes during the day (i never see her, but my bed is perfectly made and all my shoes arranged when i come home it's the BEST), well she also just takes whatever is in the fridge and cooks it. we're kind of in this roommate situation, so, i do buy my own food and try to tuck into a corner of the fridge but pascaline doesn't know this avocados get cut up and arranged into lavish salad plates (she washes lettuce with drinkable water. props), my oranges are juiced, and eggplants mixed with big hunks of meat and stuff. but, whatevs. they let me eat whatever, and absolutely delicious most of the time. so today she made this great chicken dish with cashews and my roommate asks, hey, where did you get these wonderful cashews and pascaline says, oh, in the tupperware in the cabinet. which is my tupperware, with my imported stuff from germany stuff like, beluga lentils and müsli and buckwheat. so when i get home my roommate apologizes, all, sorry we dug into your cashews and i'm like, cashews? i don't have any...oh wait. i had a bunch of individually wrapped tiny peanut mixes from trader joes (best africa emergency food)? which means pascaline opened each and every little bag, and dug out all the cashews. well that's pretty dedicated. thanks for the half bags of raisins, pascaline.  

Thursday, March 6, 2014

trying to be nice

so i went to the supermarket, and being the wonderful person that i am, i pick up a coke for the guardian guy. i go to check out and the cashier is straight valley girl cameroon style. crazy hair extensions, super long nails, loudly chewing her gum. and she's all, did you bring back an empty bottle to exchange with this coke
and i'm all no, i didn't bring a bottle. i want to buy this one
"you have to bring back a bottle to get a new bottle."
but i don't have an empty bottle. this is my first bottle. ever.
so the bag boy jumps in, "where's your empty bottle? you have to bring an empty!"
i understand the recycling thing but at some point in time, someone should be able to buy a new bottle. the circle is not closed. 
"well, you want to pay the deposit?" says the cashier with a look like i'm insane with hundred dollah billz coming out of my ears.
how much is the deposit
"75 francs!!" (10 cents)
oh my god! 75 francs? whatamigonnadooooo and i hand her a 10,000 CFA bill
and i get this glare, "i don't have 25 franc coins, so here's a BISCUIT" along with...a receipt with a red pen signature, which i will present, with the empty bottle, in order to get my 75francs back. well, i'll tell you what, the guard's gonna think it's christmas!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Me arriving for my first day of work in our Yaoundé office

Colleague: How was your walk to work?

Me: very nice, i only live 3 minutes away, easy.
Colleague: yes, there is a little trash sometimes on that path but it’s ok. And well…i don’t want to scare you or anything but last week there was a cadavre on the side of that road

Me: oh? (mouth kindof agape)
Colleague: yes, but it’s nothing to worry about.

Me: ?
Colleague: Ok, so it wasn’t the first one we have found, it might have been the second, but really it’s nothing to worry about. It’s just a little…"desagreable" (unpleasant).

Me: ?
Colleague: no, really, it’s just when, you know, someone doesn’t pay their taxi fare or whatever, it turns into an argument, well, it can end up like that. you know how it is.

Me: thankfully i have no money for a taxi. Yaoundé doesn’t accept Maestro.
Colleague: yes, Yaoundé is a Visa town. Enjoy your stay! 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

yo, yaoundé

fiirst time in cameroun! yaoundé to be exact. hilly, low-rise kinda city of average central african shithole-iness. haven't found a bank machine that will accept my cards yet, but did find a lovely basket maker to take what few central african francs i had left from my last trip to gabon. 
a very slanty basket workshop

there are questionable establishments like the libyan gas station, which looks just plain old shady and reminds me of the frantic scene from Back to the Future with Christopher Lloyd screaming "the libyans are coming!" there is a "twitter hotel" which seems neither to have any electricity, and to be pretty much a cement shack and of therefore dubious access to twitter or social media. yes, jules, i'll take a picture of the "coiffure en 3D" sign. i think everyone wants their haircut in 3D, am i right?

the number of burning trash piles per hectare, slightly less than kinshasa. it's comfortably warm, as opposed to butt-sweating river hot. at night there are pleasant downpours to cool everything down. i am renting a room in a wonderful flowery villa of a friend of a friend which is a 2 minute walk to the office. hot water, cats, a dog, a maid who cooks, hibiscus as far as the eye can see in a delightful patio where i was served brunch with homemade guacamole, gazebo with loungy basket chairs and internet sometimes. for the absurd price of 15$ a night. should be totally airbnb verified. 

the chillout gazebo

my new breakfast friend
my host took me to a crafts market (yes we're best of friends already) where there were endless stands of people and their goods. 
often, a man sitting in what literally could be construed as a throne, ornate with feathers and nuts and shells waving ceremoniously over his wares. pointing informatively to something: "that is a plate, this is a bowl, that is a hippopotamus." my favorite stands were the ones with the fat sleeping ladies, i would step over them gently to inspect their baskets and only wake them when i wanted to buy something. which was so cheap you almost wanted to offer more. the guys with their bronze statues were really pushy, but i think i came away with a good deal on a bell. "to command my future husband." and then the crazy furniture. a huge imposing mahogany bed with a flourishing headboard featuring a lion taming his lionness around a giant mirror, to see what you are doing, i guess. must be for the lebanese crowd. who were also gawking over the gold and faux tiger print dining room sets. and of course, the never absent phallic art. i asked one man, so, what is this animal? holding up a giant 2 foot long gold (circumcized) cock n balls. he blushes, saying...madame, that...that... is a zizi.