Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Cabaret and a Little Bit of Reality

This past weekend I had another "African experience"- we went out to a "cabaret" or a dance club basically. It was really fun! I went with liz and a bunch of other teachers, and liz's cameroonian friend, Thiree (something like that). It was fun, definitly a cultural experience. Their music is all really similar, but there was some modified american songs too. And dancing here is pretty cool because for the most part it's very individual. There's space between everybody and you don't have to worry about weird guys coming up to you. mostly :-) and everybody dances with everybody, like girls with girls and guys with guys. so i had a really good time. It's actually right across the street from our apartments, which also means last weekend I heard the music all night long... But it's more like a restaraunt/bar during the day and then it turns into a bar/danceclub. You pay 1,000 CFA to get in (which is a little more than 2$) and that gets you a drink too. In my case, a water ;-) We got there around 11:30, which was too early. We sat around and talked a bit till more people came- basically there's the bar and tables and a dance floor, with a dj and lights. The music kinda stuck to one theme for like 10 songs then would change themes.

Liz and her cameroonian friend dragged me out there and were teaching me how to move my hips like an African, I guess. They had a tv with music videos playing- the girls on the tv could move their hips like no other. The dancing at the club was a lot tamer. After awhile 3 guys with drums played while the more experienced dancers danced- it was really cool to watch. They played so fast and for so long, and totally in sync- I'm not sure how they did it, I think one guy was the leader. The dj would kinda add little stuff here and there too, or do background beats. The later we stayed the better it got, in my opinion- it could have been because I was improving, or just cuz the music got better and more people were there for me watch and imitate. Some of the girls came up to me and Liz and danced with us (one even said I was a good dancer! I think she was probably just being nice to me because she knew I was white and didn't know what I was doing- haha). Another guy was trying to teach us (probably mostly me) how to dance too. When Liz told him I only spoke English, he changed from saying "Un, deux" to "one, two." I don't know French, but I at least know that!

I always feel bad having to be like, "Sorry! I only speak English" to anyone who's trying to be friendly. But I am also surprised at how many people know English, and can speak it pretty well, even though they say they're bad at it. Although the internet says that Cameroon's official language is French and English, English is not really used in Yaounde, it's more in the north and in villages (for example Bamenda). Here in the city everyone speaks French, and they don't really need to know English. Except that most people speak at least 3 languages! For a lot of people they can speak French, English with a heavy accent, and their "mother tongue," and maybe even their father tongue. (This is like their tribal language, except they don't like to call them tribes, I think because of the inaccurate connotations that go along with it.)

I was talking to a teacher at ASOY, he's Cameroonian but he actually went to college at Bethel, the Christian one in Minnesota! Small world. He also taught for 2 years at Rainforest International Academy, the missionary school in Yaounde. Now he's here at ASOY. He speaks I think 5 languages we counted. Wow. We also talked about how he handled the winter at Bethel as compared to Cameroon :-)

I also got to talk for awhile to a few of the female Cameroonian teachers at happy hour at the director's house on Friday. It's interesting to learn more about Cameroonian life, at least from the perspective of teachers or assistants at the school. Nephratiti is this supercute 30something-year-old who doesn't look it at all, with a teenager at home. I think she lives with extended family, which is really common here- the family extends very far. Another woman, I forget her name, is a single mom. They were talking about how the culture has changed in this new generation, how they don't do any of the tradition anymore- It used to be that the man and woman didn't even talk before. He would be interested and persue her, which really meant she played hard to get, and he talked to her family. You have to meet the family apart from the girl, get approved, have your families meet as well, then have this whole ceremony where the girls wear viels and the guy has to find the right girl. The ladies said it was so much fun and that it's a shame that people don't do it anymore. I can picture my parents and grandparents saying similar things about this generation :-)

Coming home the other day (friday) from school I was getting a ride from one of the teachers who hires a driver, Kevin, to drive him because he didn't want or didn't know how to drive here. Anyways, Kevin was late because the government came and gave him the weekend to move before they knock down his house on Monday. This is a common thing here- people live places they aren't techinically allowed to live, and then when the government wants their land, they make them move and tear down the houses. Usually this happens because people bought land from other people who didn't actually own the land in the first place, so they have no record to prove that they own the land. Or people just set up a house on land they want because they have no where else to go or because its cheap for the short term. Sometimes the government will compensate them, but I think it depends if they can prove they bought the land in the first place. I don't really understand all of it, but some teachers were talking about it, and there seems to be two viewpoints. One is that the government, although corrupt, has the right to kick people off land they don't own. Or to knock down shops that don't have permits to be there. I guess that happens a lot too- people just set up shop when they aren't allowed to, and eventually it gets knocked down. Although, apparently the government will give them like a year to move, and most people just don't move, so it looks a lot worse when they come and say get out by tomorrow. Also, these shopowners/houseowners aren't paying any taxes, which is unfair to the government or everyone else who is following the rules and paying to be a legitimate owner. So what should they do? Another part of it is that the government is trying to make Yaounde on the up and up, which apparently it was like a dump about 10 years ago, but its really improved, partially because the government has been cracking down on things like people living anywhere they want, selling anywhere, trash, etc. How can the city improve if certain things are allowed to stay?

But the other side is that these people have no where else to go. Where should they go? Or what if so many people don't have the money to be legal owners? Also, the government is so corrupt that sooo much of the GDP is embezzeled, as well as taxes. So why pay taxes and do things by the rules when a few wealthy corrupt poeple are just stealing your money? How is it fair for the government to come to a marketplace with firehoses and evacuate everyone? What can you do with the mass poverty- these people that make their living off of selling phone cards on the side of the road in little huts? If that's the only thing they can do, what other option do you have to give to them?

Another aspect that I've learned is that part of the culture is viewing things very temporarily. I guess the average life expectancy is something as low as in the 40's. People just don't think about the long term- even if you could make some money from an illegal business and then invest that money in a legal one, people wouldn't necessarily do it because everything is so temporary. Not to mention that if you buy anything nice it's bound to get stolen. Everyone who lives in a house that does't have a guard is likely to get stolen from very often. I guess one of the school employees had their house broken into i think multiple times, and a bunch of guys with machettes and guns put guns to their heads and said, give us the TV. or something like that. And this happens all the time, there's really nothing you can do to prevent it, except not have anything worth stealing, or have enough money to pay for security. This is just such a different way of life than I'm used to, different in so many ways, from individual ideas and habits all the way up to the structure of the government. Its kinda depressing to think about all these things and not know what the solution is. Everyone says that most of west Africa is like this- that all the former french colonies are like this, because the French just pulled out and left the country to the wealthiest, most corrupt person who wanted the job. Whereas the English ones left forms of government and structure. If true, it's amazing the kind of effect it can have over such a long period of time.

I'm definitly humbled when I talk to so many people who've had less opportunity than I have, but they can communicate so much better and they know so many languages, and they have a lot of other life experiences I have not. Its good to see more of the world. But hard.

More to come on that in the next blog.

I'm learning a lot and having a good time too. It's good to be at this school and living in the teacher's apartments, but makes me feel guilty that I'm having a good time and living safely and having priviledges that most people here don't get at all.

I miss you all, thanks for reading!

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