Thursday, June 13, 2013

Mbakaou: The End of the Beginning?

How about the town?  Well, what have I told you?  Apparently nothing.  I have a slight tendency to get who I've told what confused.  Responding to emails and even phone calls all get a little blurred as they really are all the same conversations about me and what the hell I'm doing.  From my point of view, the sad thing is that I only really care about what YOU are up to.  Next to English, the thing I miss most about being Stateside is a lack of information.  Ok, next to English and food.  And possibly the company of women.  ANYWAY.

Mbakaou is a village by American standards.  There are about 4000 people running about, which was the size of my undergraduate class at UNC.  I never thought of Chapel Hill as more than a town.  But here, Mbakaou is a town.  Also in my purview, or that of the health center's where I work, are another 13 villages amounting to about another 4000 folks.  Two of them have 700 each and it dwindles town until you are literally talking about villages with eight little houses or compounds (though with enough kids they can still get that up to 50 people).  North Carolina is not known for its large cities--neither Raleigh nor Charlotte make the international radar with any regularity--but this is something I'm not quite used to.

To be honest though, I rather like it.  I feel like I'm really out there.  Getting the "Peace Corps Experience" and gaining all that useful karma to make you all feel indebted and guilty in my presence.  When I walk through fields of farmers working the earth to get down to the river, I can't help but feel half way around the world and really doing something I never could have done before.  Watching little canoes out on the lake, fishermen tossing nets and hauling in dinner, and knowing there isn't a supermarket for hundreds of miles…  Words do escape me.  I'm not sure what it all means, but it know it means something.  I loved kayaking on the rivers and lakes of North Carolina, but afterword, my brother and I would buy some frozen pizzas and a case of beer then go home and watch Netflix (check out House of Cards by the way).

That distance from the rest of the world can make it difficult to get some things done.  There is only one carpenter in town and I'm worried he's taken the money and run so to speak.  My wardrobe is still just hanging on nails on the wall.  Isolation also makes my presence a rarity that seems to draw some strange respect.  I like respect, but it does make me feel uncomfortable knowing it is just based on my foreignness and a large part my skin.  African-American volunteers assure me they get it too (and are called Le Blanc or Nassara same as me), but white guilt makes me edgy.  All the same I have been finding it incredibly easy to get work started because of this.  I walk into one of those villages and suddenly the chief calls a town meeting.  Voila, I've a forum to learn what health problems they have and talk about ways of changing it.  Fish in a barrel really.

Things are moving.  There's work to be done.  I suppose I'm over the hump of starting again.  I can see my future all stretched out in front of me (at least another year and a half of it).  And the goals are obtainable.

Except for the cockroaches.  But their time will come too.