October 13, 2007
I've run back and forth between Friesens' and Scotts' countless times by myself, but never wandered much further on my own. But Saturdays, being less structured, stretch into long days in which I begin to obsess over the things I did I home, the things I hope to do at home, the people I left at home, and, generally, a wish that I might soon be at home. To dispel these foolish thoughts, I decided to take walk. Getting out of the house always reminds me that I'm in Cameroon--and that's exciting! I chose to come here; I can't go home until I've experienced this place and its people, and hopefully left some kind of imprint (however small) myself.
Well, I experienced its people.
I took Christie with me to water the cuttings planted at the church work day earlier in the week, then sent her home as I wandered off by myself to the primary school yard a ways further. Doors were open, so I peek in and read some of the chalkboards. One was grammar exercises: fill in the verb from the selections provided. One seemed to be giving a history of World War II in less than perfect English. (Wasn't sure that was the most useful thing for primary schoolkids in the village to be learning, but who am I to say.)
I gazed down the small, verdant ravine which probably hides a stream, then turned to continue my jaunt through the village. I'd stayed too long, though, and attracted a visitor.
Jean Claude, living close to the Baptist church, had seen me before and had been waiting for a chance to talk with me.
He started with flattery, of course. "I'm so glad to have the chance to meet you." Then, requests for help. "Can you find me a job in Canada? I have a university degree and have worked on a deep sea drilling rig with an international company off the coast of Cameroon." Then, the proposal of marriage. First it was purely pragmatic: "you're a woman, I'm a man. If we are married, I can get into the country and then find a job." When I wasn't biting he turned on the charm and began to declare his love for me. "You are such a warm, caring person and I really love you."
Not wanting my refusal to sound like a slight against him personally or ethnically, I tried to explain that it wasn't because he's black nor because I thought he was a bad person. I tried to appeal to his traditional sensibilities, saying my father would not approve. Reasoning with him probably made the situation worse, but I felt heartless rejecting him out of hand. I just started reading a book on Africans' approach to money, and have also been reading a book on cross-cultural servitude which combined to make me feel like the most selfish and un-Christlike person for my unwillingness to "help" him.
Other than his persistence, he really took it well. Becky just laughed when I told her about the proposal. Dan suggested I needn't worry about saying "no" flat out: the men are quite willing to be rejected; after all, the worst the girl can do is say no, but unless you ask, she'll never say yes.
Nevertheless, in that moment, I felt awful, and desperate to get away. Giving a very vague answer to Jean Claude's question of when he could see me again, and claiming my school responsibilities keep me exceedingly busy, I finally made my excuses to leave. Pained by every part of the encounter and despairing at the thought of needing to avoid this man for 8 months, I turned for home, no longer eager to see more of the village. In this state, I was accosted by a man, possibly drunk, who--as I understood his comments--implied I was a ridiculous Westerner holed up in the house, teaching the silly white kids and not experiencing Cameroon. There was more truth to that than I wanted to admit. I wanting nothing more than to retreat to my room and burst into tears.
"October 13, 2007: I will remember this date because I met you," said Jean Claude. For him, I suspect, it was only a line; for me.I won't soon forget the guilt from white privilege stirred by this encounter, to say nothing of receiving my first marriage proposal.