I typed this up May 20th to describe the events of my day. Sometimes I forget how different my daily activities are compared to what I would do in the U.S.
As has happened often these days, there was no running water when I woke up at 7 this morning. To get a hot shower, I would have needed to get up an hour earlier, and taking a warm bucket bath wasn’t enough hardship for me to sacrifice some precious weekend shut-eye. I spent a few minutes reading through Romans while my kettle heated my bathwater, then got ready for the day, dressing carefully in a new brightly patterned top and skirt, tying a magenta headscarf over my braided hair. Breakfast was a fried egg on a wheat roll with black coffee. Just as I finished my preparations, my colleague and upstairs neighbor Ellen knocked on my door. I slipped on my shoes and we struck out for church, meeting up with another colleague.
After twenty minutes of brisk walking on dirt, gravel, and paved roads, we arrived a few minutes late for the nine am service. We easily found seats on the woods benches, with Cameroonians in front and behind us, singing and dancing to God. It only took a minute to find the rhythm so I could clap and dance along; the words were a bit harder. A hundred voices with percussion have an incredible sound, but it can obscure the individual syllables, especially when we sing in Cameroonian Pidgin or in French. After several upbeat praise songs, the worship leader paused and moved into a slower chorus, still in French. We sang one of my favorites, “You are the Most High,” in both English and French. The service continued with announcements, Scripture reading, pastoral prayer, and the sermon.
Ellen, Kristi, and I hung around after church to greet some people, including two women, Mercy and Patience, who have been partners in the children’s ministry for the last year. Patience greeted me warmly and asked if I’d like some boiled corn, recently picked from the farm of another sister at the church. I accepted, biting the fresh kernels off the cob on the hot, sunny walk home. Arriving, I unlocked my door, exhaling with relief as I stepped into my cool, tiled apartment. After a change of clothes, a frozen mango smoothie, and a few minutes with a Spanish Kindle book, I felt cool enough to make some pasta for lunch. I hate eating alone, so I grabbed my bowl and starting wandering through my apartment building, stopping at the door of a nurse-in-French-study named Lynette. She offered me a glass of water and some deep conversation about culture and identity to accompany my meal. After an hour-long chat, I finally made myself go wash dishes in preparation for my visitors, the children of a friend from church.
I had asked them to come “around 3,” so I wasn’t too panicked that I was starting to wash dishes at 2:55. As expected, they arrived at quarter to four, when I had finished the dishes and was halfway through cooking a pot of rice with beef and herbs for my guests. Emmanuel, who is about 8 years old, slipped off his shoes and walked right past me, so I turned to him in joking offense to say “You’re not going to greet me?” His sister Jennie, who is 12, responded by giving me one hug, then another to make up for Emmanuel’s forgetfulness, which was followed by a warm hug by Marvelous, age 6, and another from penitent Emmanuel. They plopped into chairs and I brought out cold water and peanuts for a quick snack. Today was special because I had a movie for them; my dad purchased “An American Tail” for me while I was in Michigan, and I’ve been wanting to watch it with some Cameroonian friends for a few months now. The two older children locked into the plot almost immediately; when Fievel fell overboard, Emmanuel wrinkled his brow in concern and cried plaintively “What’s going to happen?” They were content that Fievel found his family by the end, and then asked to watch it in French, then in Spanish, so I played clips in both languages. I served up rice while they watched, hoping to fill them up for a little while to give their mother a reprieve from the appetites of growing children.
After the movie, Marvelous insisted that we go swing at the apartment complex next door, and as I was putting on my shoes, Emmanuel looked up at my with big, earnest eyes and said “Please for plastic,” which in Cameroonian English means “Please, can I have a plastic bag?” I asked why he needed them, and he replied that he wanted to look for snails. My compound is home to several dozen snails the width of my hand, and a girl that’s staying with Emmanuel’s family knows how to wash and cook them. They always want to search the damp drainage ditches near my apartment for this extra protein, especially now that money is tight. A half dozen snails fell prey to the hunt and were carried off to the swingset in the plastic bag. Seated on a swing, Marvelous called out for me to push her, so I did, with her urging me on “No, powerful!”
As the day waned, I remembered that I can’t drive here and it’s hard to get taxis on Sunday evenings. I asked the children to follow me out to the road so I could make sure they got home before dark. While we were waiting for a taxi to come, the clouds darkened and a few cool drops fell, a foreboding sign in a land of tropical rains. The first few taxis refused them and the drops came faster, reminding me that my braided hair isn’t supposed to get wet. Soon a taxi picked up the children and I bolted across the street and up the road to my apartment, clamping my teeth down on flying grit. I brushed the sand off my face, amused, and served myself some leftover rice for dinner. After eating, it was nearly time to Skype with my mom and then my sister, receiving news from home to end the day, satisfied.