The Politics of Sharing

You might have noticed that my blog seems to be lacking substance. It doesn’t feature a lot of the standard Peace Corps Porn of one white person surrounded by Africans in traditional clothes, I think twice before adding photos of me holding Cameroonian babies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrequently, I am in the throes, experiencing a high or low, because of the relationships I have built here. My friends and coworkers share their triumphs, struggles and daily annoyances. The juxtaposition that is life in Cameroon would fit neatly into countless narratives. Often, I sit down to write about my frustrations of getting two children to rejoin their classmates in school, the realities of corruption or my thoughts on the food here but I end up just saving a draft of it on my desktop. I have a whole folder full of the nitty gritty.

Why do I stop? Because I feel that to write about my friends, my village automatically patronizes them—as if I understand things more than them. I don’t. For instance, I hate the unending carb festival that is Cameroonian food, but later I came to understand that all that energy is traditionally used on the farm. Cassava has its place I suppose. The idea of my friend stumbling upon my blog to read about her own child marriage and subsequent ending to her education would make her feel scrutinized and used.

It is easiest to pass judgement on groups of people we never interact with, and for many people Cameroon is very far away.

A few months ago, I was sitting with a few other volunteers talking about middle America, in terms that make Kansas seem more foreign than Cameroon. My friend told me how she drove through small towns that were basically a cluster of houses along a road with no running water or electricity. I felt embarrassed because I didn’t know that places like that still exist in the United States. I never considered that a person in the first world could have a domicile with and address along a highway but no lights or water. Sure, I knew about homeless people, but this was news. This story is important because we all fall into the same category: human. Life in America and Cameroon may seem worlds apart, but at times the only difference seems to be the distribution of the types of experiences we have; America has extreme poverty and extreme wealth, it goes the same for Cameroon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMedia, independent and corporate, is so often searching for the exception to the rule to speak for the value of a larger system; octomom, to display why sperm banks are immoral and Dr. Kevorkian, the de facto representative of assisted suicide.  I want people to know that Cameroon just isn’t that different, when it comes to the human experience. To write about them feels like I have to objectify and separate myself from them. We don’t exotic pierogi, and we don’t need one more “Cameroonians need help story”. To write about my story here means that I will be writing about their story, and I haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet. For the record, I have two friends who write very well about their Peace Corps experience in a way that honors the culture (you can find their blogs here and here). For now, I am very careful about how much I divulge on the internet.

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