The other night I was on a bus back to my village. A ride that should last 3.5 hours quickly turned into seven. Our bus broke down twice, ending with a passenger holding a phone for light while we both got the bus running again with a rusty butterknife and copper wire. Nevermind the driver. As we finally got moving again I thought about how exactly a year ago I was also on a bus to my village and it took us 11 hours to move 10 kilometres due to standstill traffic. There are stark differences. Last year, I vacillated between crying hysterically, yelling at people on the bus and climbing out the window to go to the bathroom. I felt completely powerless in a city I knew nothing about in the darkness. This year, I was calm, quiet and shared roasted peanuts out of a used soda bottle with other passengers. Instead of freaking out about the 10 people in a 4-person row behind me, I made friends with them. My Motor City skills even came in handy!
- Gratitude. In college, I babysat for the 3 children of a family therapist. Before bed each child needed to tell me 3 things they were grateful for. Almost immediately, I adopted the habit for my own life and find myself using it when I am stressed or just daydreaming. I may have learned the habit of gratitude in college, but I mastered it here. The highs and lows mean that I need that stability to remind myself why I’m here and that things are almost always not that bad.
- Patience. I would openly admit that patience might be one of my fatal flaws—I don’t have any and I have no intentions of cultivating in consciously. But here’s the catch, I seem to have learned it here. Nothing is a big deal in Cameroon. In a place where I can be delayed by hours or even days, I have learned to just pull out my book or make sure I have enough money for food. I’ve realized that if I am climbing on top of busses to yell at people, it had better be to make myself feel better because it will do absolutely no good. My friend Lauren said this to me recently, and I think it summarizes the best outlook for coping “Cameroon: where nothing works, but everything works out.”
- Presence. Don’t come at me with your smart phone at dinner. Leave it in the car. All that multitasking leads to a lot of distracted, meaningless conversations. In Cameroon, it’s perfectly fine to just sit with your friend and not say anything at all.
- Being unplugged. I could write volumes on how much I love high speed internet. I miss streaming NPR all day. Fact is, that is just not reality here. In exchange, I’ve read thousands of pages, watched TV Shows I wished I’d always seen, and learned that life does go on when there is no electricity. It’s nearly impossible in the States, but that won’t stop me from being a little more careless with my cell phone.