Security at the Hilton is child's play compared to the security at the Embassy. I had to hand over my cell phone, flash drives, and headphones. I was even forced to take a sip of my bottled water to prove...ummm...that is was actually water? Of course it was, so I was allowed to bring it inside. Once inside, I was immediately impressed by the pictures of African Americans that hung from the walls. President Obama, Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were proudly displayed on the walls of the library and hallways. I felt proud to be another African American gracing the halls of this impressive building.
The people at the Embassy were incredibly kind. They were all very excited to have me as their very first English Language Fellow. They made me feel like a very important part of their family. I know I'm in good hands. Part of making sure I'm well taken care of here in Cameroon is preparing me for both the best and worst-case scenarios. I spent a great deal of the day smiling and laughing. The smiling was mostly due to the kind reception, the 25,000 photos that were taken, and the dedication and professionalism of the Cameroonian educators I met. Some of the smiles and laughter were filled with a nervous energy that was a direct result of the following statements: (Please keep in mind that I love to write fiction, but I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried).
1. "Mango flies that have buried themselves in your skin will look like a mosquito bite at first. About 3 weeks later you'll know they are not mosquito bites if you squeeze it and a little worm pops out."
2. "We are who you contact if you end up in jail. But don't worry. If you are there, you'll likely only spend one or two nights there."
3. "Not only will a snake bite you, but it will wrap itself around you and it won't let go. Women rarely get bit by snakes. Men mostly get bit on the hand because testosterone is dangerous."
4. "Do not sit in the front seat of a taxi cab. Criminals have been known to hold a knife to people's throats from the back seat."
5. And finally, we are not allowed to go to the north of the country. There was a suicide bombing there two days ago. Unfortunately, this was carried out by two very young men. This made me more sad than fearful.
Throughout the day, I wondered what someone coming to Bed-Stuy (my neighborhood), would be briefed about before they arrived. Drug raids in the projects? Shootings at the playground and bus stops? Slitting of pockets by switch blades on the subway? Attacks with hammers in the train station? Terrorists flying two planes into the city's biggest buildings? Have all of these things happened? Yes. Are they a regular occurrences? No. Do they cause me to live in fear in my own neighborhood? Not at all. Do they cause me to be more aware of my surroundings and act accordingly? Of course. So why would I think any differently of Cameroon?
I am happy to report that I did not see any snakes, terrorists, throat-slitting taxi cab passengers or mango flies popping out of my skin today. What I did see was both Americans and Cameroonians who have a deep passion for the country and people who live here. They embraced me with open arms and made me feel like I am at the right place at the right time. Living in fear will deter my mission and I refuse to allow that to happen. I will stick to the mantra of walking this out one day at a time, trusting in God all along the way. Tomorrow I leave Yaoundé for Banganté (a much smaller city in the West). I'm unsure of what my internet access will be there. I'll try my best to keep the blog up to date.
*A note about pictures. The connection here is too slow to upload pics to my blog. Check out my Facebook page for pics. The link for that page is here on my site!
This website is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented are the English Language Fellow’s own and do not represent the English Language Fellow Program or the U.S. Department of State.