Because sometimes it's better to see what's on the other side...

Why I chose to live in Africa (A self-reflection of a nomadic life)

Like some freak in nature, my bus went careening down the road, swerving uncontrollably left and right, the loud noises of the broken bus overpowered by the prayers screamed out by every passenger in the bus… but me. All I could think of was the last three weeks of my life, where I had been somewhere completely different, surrounded by good friends and family, and food.

Sipping craft beer with a close friend along the California coast watching the sun go down,

Rodeo Beach, California

Rodeo Beach, California

playing with my friends’ children in the backyard, as the barbeque grilled my favorite Swiss food,

Zofingen, Switzerland

Zofingen, Switzerland

eating cheese under the Eiffel Tower while listening to Edith Piaf until suddenly the lights sparkled.

Paris, France

Paris, France

My sister’s wedding, at sunset, in front of my dearest family members and good friends.

About to walk her down the aisle, Tilden Park, California

About to walk her down the aisle

I could have gone on, but suddenly the bus stopped with a jerk, just along the side of the highway, relieving every one of us from what we had believed to be our last moments on this planet. Those words that had been echoed throughout my three week stay at home and in Europe echoed in my ears: “Why Africa?”

That may have not been the best moment for me on this continent, and I can think of many others just as bad, but I still believe that I made the right decision living here. Ironically, thinking back, I never really chose Africa. Any job I’d ever applied for on a whim had been anywhere but, including Russia and Vietnam (which I ditched for Switzerland last minute). If anything, Africa chose me. Every time I have come here, it is for a purpose, a reason inexplicably logical. And if I love it here, it makes sense.

It makes sense because I like chaos. Making a mess of my room was the easiest thing in the world as a little girl, it was only when I was older that I learned to appreciate order, and make things a little bit cleaner of my own accord without my mother running behind me with threatening looks. I learned to clean up my own “messes” in life, always finding a solution, one way or another, whether or not it was the most logical one.

my room, 2004

My room, 2004

It makes sense because I am spontaneous, even if I am a little better planned these days because of work and responsibilities. My friends in high school and I used to roam from house to house, randomly showing up to “kidnap” each other to do….absolutely nothing.

Friends traveling 800 miles to kidnap me by surprise...

High school friends traveling 800 miles to kidnap me by surprise in college, Portland Oregon, 2006

I decided to hitch a ride one morning with a Finnish guy I hardly knew, only because he was driving from France to Finland via the Baltic Route, and I could not imagine giving up such a golden opportunity even if it was first week of classes…and even if he had only jokingly invited me.

Heikki driving through a snowstorm in Lithuania

Heikki driving through a snowstorm in Lithuania. I must have said something crazier than normal. 2008

It makes sense because I like people. I have always been surrounded by people of different ages, genders, races, political leanings, and personalities from myself. Working at a Boy Scout camp as one of 8 girls at a camp of 350 people made me learn to appreciate my differences from many of my gun lugging, tobacco spitting, Republican coworkers, who called me a “damn hippie” every day I worked there. And yet we got along swell, because we discovered we all loved riding horses, and could enjoy a nice sunset together.

troup-1733-wente-7-04

Troop 1733, Wente Scout Reservation, 2004

It makes sense, because here I can breathe fresh air (outside of Yaoundé), eat fresh and cheap food, and call on everyone around me by name. I can walk into their houses and spend hours chatting away, and they can do the same in mine, without calling in advance. I can see the sky with its ever changing weather, and the greenest forests and the lushest fields of corn, peanuts, pineapple, and cassava I’ve ever seen. Life is harder here, there’s no getting around it. But in some respects, life is better. Away from the 9-5 job, from the short nights of hanging out with friends who are more attached to their smartphones than to having a real life conversation. The ability to buy anything and everything at the click of a button, even if you don’t really need it…these things don’t exist here….yet. Why Africa? Why not?

When the bus did finally shudder to a stop, we all sighed a huge sigh of relief. Everyone scrambled out, and once it was clear that our bus wasn’t going anywhere, we hauled our belongings onto the side of the road, flagging down anything that drove by. It wasn’t long before a massive cargo van with no windows pulled up, creaking along the way. The other passengers quickly piled in with their mattresses, bags of peanuts, jugs of oil, and managed to squish in, one way or another. As I stood dazed on the side of the road squinting through the bright sunlight one of the women shouted out to me, “Come on you, let’s go!” Everyone moved and shifted until there was space for my bag, and upon refusal of the front seat offered to me, I sat on a bag of peanuts, my legs sandwiched between those of my new friend’s, who held my bag up as they shut the door and plunged us into heated darkness.

This wasn’t the first time this had happened, and it probably isn’t the last, but it was remarkable in the timing, having just gotten back from my trip home to the states. Despite everything I love about Cameroon, this country is a scary place sometimes; and yet there’s comfort in knowing you’re never alone. As I sat in the sweltering heat, the ladies around me complained about the conditions of sitting in the back of a dark, stinky van. “It’s so hot!” I just smiled and said, “So long as we get there it doesn’t matter. So long as we’re alive.” They patted me on the shoulder and smiled, “God is good.”

 

5 Comments

  1. Leslee Field

    Beautiful Laura! What a gift you are!

  2. Thierry Otis

    Assiaoooh. U’re r8. There’s confort knowing u’re never alone. Eventhough I still don’t understand why u choose to live in Cameroon. I see you fit perfectly in the place.

  3. Maryben

    Could you write some more Laura? By the way let me know when you are free in Yaoundé.

  4. Catherine Snapp

    Wonderful Laura! I felt like I was right there w/ u on the bus and in the back of the van. Such an adventure!

  5. Nsah Mala

    This is a well-crafted and compelling piece, Laura. I enjoyed it.

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