Before I came to Cameroon, I knew absolutely no French. One of our family friends told me before I left, "Bon voyage!" and I responded, "Bon voyage!" Now, when I am upset I have an easier time expressing myself in French rather than English. For example: I was in an Anglophone village (English Speaking part of Cameroon) and a Juju hit me in the head with a stick. I was so upset that the first words out of my mouth were in French.
I know certain character traits about myself. I am a perfectionist, Type A, like things done my way and done on my watch type of person. Well, let me just tell ya, that is not the way things are done here. Its this weird thing that happens now when everything is in chaos, its literally as if all I hear is static like when the TV or radio is on a bad channel. I am able now to sit of long car rides, next to smelly people, goats in the trunk and having a goat snack on my ponytail and all I hear is static. Things do not phase me as much anymore.
With that being said, I have now become more feisty. If someone is bothering me I have no qualms letting the person know how I feel, yelling at someone, or saying a witty remark to make the other person feel uncomfortable. When someone tries to rip me me off, I normally say something like, "You are a thief!" or "You are a comedian!" I tell people I am Cameroonian, which generally their response is, "You cannot be Cameroonian. You are white, only blacks are Cameroonian." Then I will respond, "I cook your food. I wear your clothes. I speak your languages. I live here. I have an I.D. card. I am just as Cameroonian as you are."
I still would love to change the world, but I am; just in a way that I did not think I would. I am changing the people around me. It might be small changes, but those small changes mean the world to them. Its the conversations that I have. Explaining to people, that is both not normal and not healthy for a 13 year old girl to get married to a 40+ year old man. I am 24, unmarried and kid-less. That is a monumental idea to a lot of people. I also feel like I am empowering the women I work with. When I walk into a meeting where the women are taking French classes, then introduce myself in Fufulde. They are shocked that English is my first language, that I just learned French and that I trying to speak Fufulde. When I show them by example that what they think is impossible, learning another language, is possible, their eyes light up. Those are just a few things that I feel like that I have had an impact with; but here are a few more. Introducing saving 200 CFA a week (about 40 cents), what a Piggie Bank is or making new types of products to sell.
Yes, there are extremely difficult days. Times when I almost get robbed, a rock gets thrown at me, the kids wake me up at 6am yelling in all my windows, men tell me that I need to be their wife, or have their babies. But I think the most important thing I have learned is to brush things off and laugh about something that happened. If I let the uncontrollable bother me too much, if I let the hard times get to me too much; then I would not be here.
After almost 1 year in country, I have reached a sense a peace. I am more comfortable in my skin than I have ever been. I have reached a sense of calm that I did not think would be possible for this Type A person.