Moving to The Middle of the World

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At 4,381 people per square kilometer, Bangalore is teaming with life

Monkeys are turning out to be the big draw.  We attempt to emphasize the vast history of the second most populous country during dinner time conversations while throwing out words like: mega city, dosas, Taj Mahal and cradle of civilization. They just think about the future uniforms, worry a little about finding friends again and (of course) bandwidth.

A measure of appeal of a future middle school brain and his little sister’s has become how fast Youtube can load. Next year we are going to be living and teaching in Bangalore, India. At this point the move seems exhausting and too soon after only two years in Cameroon.

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Colleen and I find the idea of street food really exciting. Standing around eating with traffic and tired feet with encroaching monkeys.

Then there is food…’Will there be KFC, Dominos?’ So much for the diverse palette of world cuisine, our children’s tongues are drawn to the rare and almost mythical fast food. We answer, ‘There is a Hard Rock Cafe with hamburgers, though with traffic it can be a two hour taxi ride.’ This is not good news. So we circle back to monkeys.

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Canadian International School, the future site of our newly minted MS student and his increasingly charming elementary sister.

This move will mark the third conscious choice to live outside of our home country, establishing a constant orbit around America, only landing in the summer time for burritos and road trips to see friends and family.

We now have to ask everyone to consider a visit and attempt to capture some of the vast and diverse culture that is India. You’ll have a free place to stay in Bangalore, monkeys included.

From Pam with Love

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Come for the pita chips, stay for the wedding dresses.

There was a long time that the dusty shelves held that which no one wanted…the place was empty  for most of this year…October, they said and we went away. Of course the prom dresses, random kitchen supplies and beauty products remained. Then we heard that Ranch dressing had arrived, a drive-by revealed the stocked shelves – the container from Baltimore, filled by Pam, a Cameroonian woman, living in America, had finally arrived in Yaoundé.

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For your parties, for your nuptials, Pam will also girth your body in many shades of red, pink and blue. Maybe even throw in some white plastic chairs for cheap.

 

 

We drove in on Thursday after school, grabbing a worn box of Lucky Charms (the most wanted of the evilest of cereals), all 7 cans of black beans, a jar of salsa, salad dressing and some instant ramen noodles; the most wanted of the processed American foods.

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Word spread quickly that Pam’s was holding the goods and many descended upon the momentary accessibility of American packaged foods – and then we hope..

Pam’s is a picture of how connected the world is (corn flakes and walmart’s nutella) and how distinctly limited Yaoundé can be within a massive five story empty box.  There is money here, just not enough opportunity or stability to make it so that I can buy pita chips more than once a year.

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Pam’s mezzanine has enough flare to look like a potential hip new start up where the app is meant for off-the-grid-back-to-Earther who loves a simple cement open floor plan.

Of course, the point really is that I shouldn’t be able to buy pita chips, made in America and shipped to Cameroon. This very thing is bad, bad, bad for the world. Too much energy wasted for the lasting (they were eaten in a night). Simply put, my needs are destroying that which I want; an Earth with sustainable pita chip creation.

 

 

Cameroonian Apartment Cat Life

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They share the chair, they fight over the chair, this space is theirs.

O.k. Maybe umm….KEEEEEEEE. We should say their names, o.k., this one is Cinnamon (Shea points to the cat on the left) and the one on the right is Cupcake. O.k. Uhhhhh. They are annoying at night (yes, still) and they have a good life with each other, an entertaining life – no, not life – they have a good habitat. Quinn breaks in to ask ‘Why do they have a good habitat? Look at him, he is just licking his paw.’ We all turn to look at Cinnamon.

Shea’s toes itch…. Quinn wants to know what is for lunch tomorrow….

‘Why are you writing this, dad?’ Shea wants to know.

The cats are now a year and a month old. They are teenagers, they are slowing down a bit. Shea doesn’t think that they are teenagers, Quinn points that out…’Dad, dad, now write about how Cupcake has a good space to walk.’ He does actually ‘like’ to walk – Mostly think about the Cake (as he is called) bolting out the door every time it opens.

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The escapee is led back home after an adventurous time under the BBQ, various cars, skittering away from curious guards and following bugs.

They are curious little fur balls – entertaining fur balls and playful fur balls (The word ‘fur ball’ is a hit). O.k. Cinnamon loves caves and hide outs, forts out of blankets – Quinn mentions that all Cinnamon does like to do is wake us all up at early hours to say hello. Colleen does get the worst end of the this deal, being the most responsible one in the house – she is the food source.

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The other food source – nightly visits by all sorts of flying deals – that get caught and eaten.  Geckos are sadly in this group as well.  No birds, yet.Yet…

‘What is the food source? Who?’ exclaims Shea… Quinn is apprehensive that I am writing everything Shea is saying and that the blog post needs to be edited more, ‘What is Keeeee anyway?’ Quinn questions.

editors note: Shea typed the conclusion on her own

ethan has nothing to do with the cat take care program wile shea, and quinn and coleen make sure the cats are okay ethan is just swinging in the hammock or taking a nap. (true statement)

Hope you don’t have cats like this…

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Cinnamon, being curious, checks out the first stage of making chocolate.

 

How much is that cheese in the window?

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For most, this is the supermarket – $5 a week to feed a family, makes processed imported food a crazy waste: to spend $5 for a tube of Oreos, $15 for meat or $10 for a frozen pizza?

The cheap and easy vegetables are on every street corner and incredibly reliable in price and type – although avocados do get expensive in dry season. Tomatoes, manioc, bananas, leafy green stuff, papaya, Magi (yummy seasoning composed of MSG), onions and dried fish. After purchasing what we can on the street, we plunge into the mostly import markets where price and availability become strange and surprising.

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Again and again we are the worst dressed as we roll around in the Super Marché. It could be seen as shabby chic, if not for the plastered, sweat stained clothes and dirty shorts.

Each week we run the gauntlet of the expat expensive, frivolous and processed. For me (don’t judge) Oreos, if I see a tube, I’ll buy a tube. Colleen, being more sensible buys local flour and rice, the kids work to procure the never attainable $15 ice cream. We each run off and grab $10 bottles of olive oil, dry packs of Yakisoba ($6), frozen pizzas for the weekend, lazy meals at $8. We shop at the little Casino (European chain), Mahima (local Indian run Chain), Centragel (local meat and cheese imports), Socropol for the on-the-way home frozen, unfrozen, frozen again stuff stop.

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Yes, that is a game of solitaire she is playing. Yes, drinkable water must be bought in Yaoundé, most do not have taps and then the tap water is not potable.

The stores are full of strange and wonderful things, cheap beers, expensive beers, lots of employees with stoically bored looks plastered to their faces, or just asleep. Customer service is to be slightly rude in general and straight out outraged if the right change is not proffered. Shoppers are an inconvenience to be barely tolerated.img_0173

Except when I go to buy whiskey, then there are four or five ladies dressed in gold lamé cocktail dresses, or just short and tight showing me the brand that pays them in some way to push their liquors. I always disappoint with an expensive Scottish brand that has no rep, unlike the Johnny’s, Beams and other cheap stuff. Then, I hand over half a local worker’s monthly salary for processed sugar circles and alcohol trying not to look as privileged as I am.

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 If minimum wage monthly salary of a Cameroonian is about 50,000 CFA, to compare cost of living ratio to the US that bottle of whiskey would be $500.

Pour le Santé

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Flatish ground? something round? soccer is found.

At the end of the past six summers, Colleen and I now routinely battle back from the American 10. The pounds start when school ends with the airplane food and ends summer break with a six pack of IPA and a double burrito the day before the plane takes us away. In Cameroon we tend to fill weekday nights and early morning weekends with stuff for le Santé.

‘For the health…’ we hike the local mountain, attend fitness classes, HIT workouts, 5×5 lifting programs, yoga, tennis, hash runs and occasional MTB rides. We are not alone as we trudge up and down, side to side and lift heavy things above our heads.  Yaoundé residents, from the lower middle class to the wealthy, military or police forces, club soccer teams, women’s groups, youth clubs and the like are interested in trying to stay healthy.

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We are by far the weakest in the room, but we are working on it.

In the gym Quinn and I have a quick community of context. Everyone there can comprehend why we are working out, why we are sweating and working hard.  Hiking up the hill (Mt. Febe) passing hundreds and instantly understand each other. The city has others that are like us, releasing stress out into the beautiful sunsets or as the early morning heats up, with sedimentary jobs.

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Golf for those who enjoy walking, skill and can afford it; juxtaposed by a women bearing her cooking wood on her head, 50lbs, to get her through the next couple of days.

Then there are those who earn money with their bodies, having exactly what we are all seeking in our free time, they earn during the day.  The village is full of fit and strong people farming, building and moving earth to eat and survive. The women carrying wood, water and food on their heads back to their homes to then cook.  A mason working 5 days a week making cement blocks for the new apartment building.  They don’t need the gym, they need a rest. Strange as the world is to be huffing by those who don’t have the option to not be strong and able.

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Moving mountains every day for a little bit of pay.

 

You Can’t Hit Someone From The Side

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The fastest thing in Yaoundé traffic, motorcycles can be a surprise likethe buzzing of of a humming bird buzz by your ear.

The one fear that I have here, well actually it is the third fear, happened last week.  All of a sudden without any indication, a motorcycle rider hit our car while turning left up a street towards school. The fear derives from some really good evidence of negativity.  1) hurting/killing people is bad  2) Accidents in Yaoundé tend to cause large crowds that can get crazy quick  3) There is the expectation of money to change hands. How much money depends on the color of your skin, the severity of the accident, the size of the crowd, the ability to communicate and really important, how pissed off the two parties can get.

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Driving home I just size up potential problems.  Thus, I like to drive as if my car is a leaf in a stream, I just float passively down until the home gate opens.

Just two weeks ago, Quinn, Shea and I witnessed two large, grown men, beating each other up over a moto accident. A good parenting moment in that both kids got to see the ugliness of punches, the sound and the icky feeling it leaves in the stomach. Quinn was struck by how one shouldn’t joke about violence so much. As we drove on from that scene, I reviewed my accident policy: stay in the car, stay in the car and call the embassy, stay in the car.

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With medical costs high, no helmet and fast driving, the moto driver lives dangerously.

Thus, when the young man in aviator sunglasses, accordion-ed against the 24 year old blue rear door of the car at 7:10am with signal blinking, I did everything instinctual.  I got out of the car to check on the stunned, slightly hurt man, helped him out of the road, then in French, I got to say, ‘you ok?…fault was you, not me. There are lights.’ I repeated this three times. The cool morning breeze added no heat to those who saw the accident. No crowd formed. Even two police nearby looked over, looked back to their own interests. So, I got in my car and went to school.

A teacher can never ever be late. Ever.

3 minutes later, at the my school’s gate, another moto rider, probably friend or acquaintance, blocked my car waiting in line at the gate and began to yell at our car, which then alarmed the guards at the school, then the guard stationed at our school with the AK-47 was alarmed. The guards engaged the angry moto driver and I got to pass safely through the gate, so as not to be late.

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This is the finish line for our school day and the start line for the end of the day.

Quinn, Shea and Colleen, headed off to their classrooms, I trudged back up to the gate to see what I could do. A gaggle of people were having words, my presence and poor French phrasing didn’t help and I was told to head out; I assumed the price to balance a damaged moto would be given later.

I felt guilty all day for the wreck and for hiding behind the gate.

At the end of the day a Cameroonian friend quickly wiped away my guilt, by saying, ‘you cannot hit someone from the side…they just wanted money, but not fairly.’ He laughed at how crazy normal that whole scene was. I made Colleen drive home.

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The Fantastic resting after a hard day.