Tonight I arrived back in Yaoundé after a month’s vacation in the “civilized world” where I enjoyed such luxuries as flushing toilets, hot showers, unlimited high speed internet access, real books (that people read for pleasure!) and lots of ice cream and chocolate. Looking out the window of the taxi from the airport, I was filled with mixed feelings. I had the sense of being somewhere new and seeing things for the first time, but at the same time I had a sense of familiarity almost like the calm excitement you feel when after a long period away, you approach your destination and you start to recognize the scenery around you, then you know that you are home. It was then that I realized how much Cameroon has grown on me. Despite all the problems and frustrations, and despite how discouraged or homesick I sometimes feel, I’ve become attached to this dusty little country in the armpit of Africa.
My Cameroonian family who always looks out for me and shares the little that they have with me.
Recently my level of motivation dropped and I have been thinking a lot about going home (which probably had a lot to do with being back in my cultural comfort zone and with having access to running water). In conversations with family and friends, I am often negative and pessimistic, painting this awful picture of a miserable, poor, hot, dusty, and backwards region where the food isn’t very good. But the truth is there are so many things I love about this country, and in particular the Far North, that I know it is going to break my heart when I leave here.
It makes me think that perhaps the best and most meaningful relationships or experiences we have are not the ones that come easily, but the ones that we have struggled and fought for. I have often described my experience here as tough, tougher than I expected and in ways that I couldn’t predict. But I didn’t come to Cameroon looking for a free ride neither did I expect the work I was going to be doing to be like summer camp; I came here looking for a challenge and I got what I asked for and maybe even a bit more. At the end of the day, I am grateful for all the experiences I have had, the good and the bad, for each one has helped to shape me into (I hope) a better person. Mostly I feel very lucky to have seen and felt so many things in my short lifetime that I can honestly say I don’t regret any of it.
Dili and Mathias- two bright young boys who acted as my tour guides in Rhumsiki
So as I drive through the night time streets of Yaoundé, filled with life and music on a Saturday night, the feeling that rises up above the rest is the feeling of being blessed; Blessed to have had such a fortunate and privileged life; Blessed to have had so many wonderful memories; And especially, blessed to have been at the receiving end of so much kindness, generosity and love from so many people. Whether family, friends, acquaintances or even strangers, I have been especially lucky when it comes to the people that have been a part of my life. How many people, near or far, have touched my life and in some cases, profoundly altered it?
Before leaving for Cameroon, a friend offered me a book call the kindness of strangers (edited by Don George) as a parting gift. The book is a collection of travel stories by different people who have been helped out by strangers in surprising and unexpected ways. (Book description: A timely collection of inspiring tales, The Kindness of Strangers explores the unexpected human connections that so often transform the experience of travel, and celebrates the gift of kindness around the world.) I feel like I could have written that book based on my experiences alone and there wouldn’t have been enough pages to fit all the acts of kindness I have received. Just in the past month, how many people have bought me diner or an ice cream? Offered me a ride or given me a place to sleep for the night? Called me to see if I was okay and if I needed anything? Gone out of their way to accommodate me and help me out? Shared with me and taken care of me?
Saad and Djawe goofing around at the restaurant where I go to laugh and unwind. The owner, Saad's father, calls me sister and treats me like family. He occasionally offers me a free meal or juice.
When I was in India, a friend told me that “if you travel with a good and open heart, people will be good to you and will open their hearts to you”. In my life, I have found nothing to be truer. I also hope that it means that in some small way I have done something good or shown some kindness to all those people who have been good to me. So to all those people who have been a part of my life, I want to say thank you, although it can never be said enough. I can only hope that I can give back even a small portion of the love, kindness and generosity that you have given me.
I know this sounds a bit like a goodbye, but it isn’t. I still have a long journey ahead of me and a lot more love to give. But as I get ready to head back to the Far North and to the challenges that await me, I have a lighter heart, a heavier bag (weighed down with snacks and presents for my kiddies), and a stronger resolve to make the most of the time I have left in Cameroon.
“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and to try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.”