After two months of training, with a 7 PM curfew (“it’s not a curfew, just a time to be home,” our director said), and limited privacy or “alone time” (in Cameroon being alone can be considered weird, or cause of concern, because it’s rare that people have enough space for someone to just hide away from the family). You can imagine, that after 2 months, with 21 other trainees who had become your family, that all of the sudden your bus drops you and all of your stuff off on the curb, and while a crowd of confused locals swarm around the bus, trying to get somewhere, next thing you know your friends are waving warily as they drive away, leaving you to your own devices. And this is supposed to be your home for the next 2 years, amongst a mob of confused people on vacation, others selling fruits and veggies, motorcycles driving everywhere, cars, and busses whizzing past. Welcome to Bafia, my new home. This definitely ain’t no village yo.
This could have been hard, but, again, Peace Corps never leaves you alone, whether you like it or not. As soon as the bus dropped me off, Gautier was standing by the taxi, shoving my stuff into the vehicle whichever way it would fit. “Welcome to Bafia!” he smiled. And this is how Gautier, whom I’d met a week earlier for a few days in Ebolowa, started his work as my “counterpart,” or “community host.” I cannot emphasize how much of a difference it makes to have a local friend whom you can trust, who can give you the lay of the land, and can start introducing you to the right people, who actually want to get to know you, and want to genuinely help the lone American girl who if all goes well will be hanging around town for the next few years.
Settling into a new town is always exciting, exhausting, and exhilarating, right? There are so many things to do, see, and experience, all at once, that it seems as if it will never end. Each part of town seems interesting, and you start to note where things are, and what stores are useful for buying good bread, or where you can get a screwdriver or hammer at a good price. First you have to move into your empty apartment, and work your way up from a mattress on the floor to a full gas stove and wood table with chairs. From meeting four people, you expand your social network to 25 or 30 in a matter of days, although you can’t even remember their names. Each time someone introduces you, a massive line of questions follow, and you learn to rote recite your reason for being there, and what they can expect from you. You get excited by little things, like the fact that fruit is all of the sudden cheap and plentiful, and the high school where you’re going to teach looks so clean and beautiful, even though you know that it’s also massive, with over 100 students in each classroom. As Peace Corps likes to call it, this is your honeymoon phase, where your town seems so nice and welcoming, and everyone seems helpful. So like all good married couples do: try to make it last as long as possible!