When Nicolas renamed me “Mambo,” the newest member of the Mancon tribe, he didn’t realize that it’s actually a word I was very comfortable with, having heard it every single day, hundreds of times….in Tanzania, that is. Literally, it means “problems,” but culturally it’s how you greet everyone in Swahili, asking them to get their reply of “sijambo” or “no problems.” I’m fine. I felt fine, once I had arrived at what appeared to be the biggest Mancon dance party in town. It seemed better than where I had been before.
Now the one thing about being an expat, is that it is so much easier for me to be invited to expat parties, and to meet other expats anywhere I go. I know expats, because I am one. But that being said, I’m not always a fan of the community. When I was in France, it was the surest way of not learning French; when I was in Russia, there were the few foreign men that treated women and talked of them in a way that made me cringe and never really want to date an American or British man, ever again. We’re also very famous for being loud, crude, and considerably more than slightly alcoholic.
As I struggled through a day long pub crawl with new acquaintances, I think it wasn’t any particular person that seemed wrong, or out of place, but rather the group as a whole. Beer after beer, the noise got louder, and dancing rowdier, and comments cruder. As I nursed another soda, I felt out of place, unwilling to put myself in any unnecessary danger by drinking, and rather embarrassed by my company. As we walked by a village, an elderly women looked at me in particular (the only unmarried white woman present) and shouted in French, “You shouldn’t drink! You should get married!” “I will try, ma’am,” I replied, “I will try.” I mean, someday. It’s on my list of things “to do.” But back to being an expat.
Being an expat is only strange and uncomfortable if you hide away from the community that is hosting you. If you dive in head first and embrace it, then chances are you will find a way to at least incorporate yourself as a “welcomed foreigner.” As soon as I said goodbye to the “gang” that was heading off to the nightclub, I was relieved to see Janet, who drove me to the Mancon party and laughed as I told her of my adventures. As we sat, eating achioo and yellow soup (my new favorite meal, kind of like mashed potatoes and yellow curried gravy), I caught up with various family members, and even got pulled into the massive dance party. They even had an incredible group of singers and drummers who were in the center, as everyone chanted to their hearts content the traditional rhythms of their homeland, somewhat far away. I guess we were all expats in a way, since they too, were somewhat estranged from the francophone, hectic city of Yaounde, so different from their peaceful, cool and polite anglophone Bamenda. I think their expat party was more fun though.