City: Nyassoso, Southwest
“What do you like best your moto union?”
“We are together”
What are the challenges of driving okata?
“The stigma is most challenging. The public has a notion that this is the lowest type of job and is meant for the lowest type of people, frustrated people, illiterate people. Young girls insult me because they say driving bike is for dirty people. I have changed some peoples minds about this, starting with my family; they thought that when I started driving my education was over, but I challenged them by registering myself for the O-level tests this year with the money I made from driving bike. I take pride in the appearance of my bike and in my own appearance; I show girls that riding okata is not for dirty people and is something to be proud of.”
One of my favorite parts of living here is that an average day can be taking a motorcycle deep into the bush. It will go from pavement to a well graveled path suitable for a car to a path only used by a moto. No electricity. No running water. And this little boy thinks I am the strangest thing. What am I doing in his village?
Name: Alfred, President of the local Moto Man Union**
“Tell me about your wife.”
“Our being together was natural. Why? Because she is very tall and I am a short man so we balance eachother. We’ve been married for 15 years now.”
**Alfred is a special Moto Man because he is also the leader of a union of 300 moto men in the region. He told me that men who formally sign up to be part of the union get some very needed services in the area. If a man goes to the hospital, then the union pays the hospital fees. If a man is stuck somewhere, the other members have a responsibility to stop and help them. In the event of death, the union gives the family money to help the grieving family.
I’m sitting at my kitchen table with a pile of Mangoes I bought for the equivalent of one dollar in front of me. The Lumineers and Coltrane are playing and I’m wearing a onesie at the frip which probably was originally sold in America. I have electricity and running water (today anyway). I could probably be in America. But I’m not. And I can only think of home. It’s almost Flower Day at the Eastern Market. I’m thinking about how I missed Easter (actually I forgot and was sick anyway). I’m thinking about how my niece can walk this Easter and she will practically be a teenage by the time I get home. I remember how my mom and I would eat lunch together twice a week last year at this time. I miss yelling at my mom to go to bed while she sleeps on the couch almost every night. I can smell the cider and pizza at Motor City Brewing Works.
Home sickness sneaks up on me like a bad hangover or a sneaky case of stomache bacteria. I woke up with the best intentions, put on my running shoes and even left the house. I got to my local call box (for those of us without cell phones) and turned right around and went home. Being homesick is a lot like the classic symptoms of depression. I start telling myself that I have no projects going on, that I’m not a good volunteer. I will want to spend all day watching American TV shows (Entourage or The Wire anyone?) or sleeping. I don’t feel like cooking. Most of all, I don’t want to leave my house.
All of these behaviors are counterproductive. In fact, after I told myself that I have no projects going on and I’m a bad volunteer, I made a list. I have 9 projects of activities in the pipeline this month. That’s not nothing. And even though I punked out on my run this morning, I am going to make myself do a quick indoor workout tonight. No. Excuses. I obviously need the endorphin boost.
I’m lucky because most days I am so amused and full of happiness. I left Michigan at 18; I’ve been gone a full 6 years now. The truth is I only have one friend there Being home can be more lonely than being in Cameroon where I am a total outsider. When I’m home I spend a lot of time in my mom’s robe or with family. Maybe this is the beginnings of a yearning to plant some roots? I traditionally only went home 2-3 times a year. But I still miss my people who are spread out all over the world. The one’s who have known me before my travelling days.
Before I came to Cameroon, I Skyped with Julie and alum of my school and PCV in Ukraine. She told me that I would have bad days, weeks, even months. Well, my bad month is here. When I feel like this, I remind myself that even bad days happen in America and it’s part of the game.