Sunday afternoon, meeting Roger, Ton-Ton’s best friend from village (Makak). He names a place to meet and I thrill that I know exactly where it is, and I walk there. I’m getting to know my neighborhood. It’s like a very crowded village…
I scan the tables for him, re-scan, don’t see him, then laugh at how easily I forget how not inconspicuous I am. I can sit down, wherever. He’ll find me.
Church times were my favorite times in Mvangan. I went a few times early on, socially – good integration thing. Different churches (there are at least 5 there). Later..I realized that 10 am to noon Sunday morning was the one time all week I was guaranteed to have to myself – and I cherished it. We blancs have set up our society so individualistically. Even in a room with others, we’re often alone (online, reading, cubicles, etc). We insulate walls, soundproof things, don’t want to disturb the neighbors.
I thought today I would get time to myself – 4 glorious hours before meeting R. Pascale was going to go to church was a 10 oclock service…she ended up leaving after one. Taking awhile to get ready, especially with a baby, isn’t remarkable. And I didn’t feel I had the right to be annoyed – didn’t, really – it’s herhouse. It really is the perfect situation for me now. It’s just funny – and Cameroonian – how Eric described it to me, and I – Americanly – misconstrued it. He said his sister would take a neighbor’s room. I’d pay that rent, she’d move out, and I’d stay in her place. Not saying his sister shared room room with her younger sister, Flora, and her (Pascale’s) baby, Megan. They’re the ones sleeping in the other room (Megan and Flora), but cooking and most things take place in Pascale’s room. (Just learned that the permanent occupant of the second room – which is called “Hollywood” – is also staying there, in-between her various trips. She was apparently one of my running partners on Sunday). Anyway. Full house. Last night, Sol came over for dinner. I’d met him, once before, in Mvangan, and he hugely annoyed me. He just finished a PhD in radiology and nuclear medicine here. He came to Mvangan, seemed kinda slimy, had a printed and bound 20 page HIV project he was going to drop in and implemenent – to the cool tune of 1 million ($2000) for a 2 day seminar. It was written in the normal Cameroonian flowerly, pompous government language that doesn’t mean much, with a ridiculous budget that he was expecting to get financed by some NGO somewhere. All under the name of some youth association in Mvangan he was the president of – a paper association, with probably a very nice stamp. Doc was all excited about the project that I was going to do with Sol. I was jaded – I’ll talk the talk while he’s there, whatever, knowing it was never going to happen – and not caring because I did the same sort of trainings, with no budget, at least once a month, with continuing activities in-between.
So, Sol came over for dinner last night. I helped prepare (which VP found funny. Ohwell. The other morning, when I was getting ready for work and she was still in bed – I swear she’s the only Cameroonian who sleeps later than I do – and said “don’t get up.” Her reply “What, you make breakfast? You’ll burn yourself. No, no, I’m getting up.” All protests feeble. (My qualifications in fancy French and improvisatory cooking really don’t count here, apparently). Even reminding her that I did everything for myself in Mvangan, she was still a little incredulous. (another subject for later). Gombo and couscous de mais (fufu corn). They’re friends, she and Sol. Ok, I’ll start again with him.
News is on. We talked politics (Cameroonians – including those with much lower education levels than these, can discuss politics from Cameroon to Africa to Europe to the US. The big political happenings lately have been: 1) Omar Bongo’s death in Gabon 2) A French NGO declaring in a newspaper that Paul Biya (president here for the past 26 years, and prime minister for 21 years before that) has “ill-gotten funds.” 3) Biya suddenly and without warning shuffling around a bunch of ministers, including the prime minister.
1) Bongo was younger than Biya but had been president longer (since Gabon’s independence – longest-running president in Africa, I believe). Those two hierarchies created a rivalry between them. I used to live about 60 km from Gabon – it’s the same tribe in the north of Gabon as in the South of Cameroon (Bulu-Fang). There are more jobs in Gabon than in Cameroon, supposedly (also much smaller population), and the Gabonese are “lazy” – they don’t “produce anything.” (supposedly. I don’t know). Rumor is Gabonese used to come to the Mvangan market, one reason it was from 5 -6:30 am (aka market with flashlights…). Anyway. People liked to cross over to Gabon to sell bush meat and other things because they could get much higher prices there. That’s CEMAC (Central African Economic Union) at its unofficial best.
So, Omar Bongo died. Apparently, a few months before his death, an NGO (see 2) “broke” a similar “shocking” story about him. With the stress of not wanting to be deposed and go to jail before dying in office…his heart gave out somewhere in Spain. And the country’s been peaceful, which is good and tenuous for a country that’s never held elections. (free ones anyway. Although “free” elections in Cameroon are another story. Yes Biya is the democratically elected president. By over 90% of the vote, somehow).
** I’M NOT A PCV ANYMORE SO I CAN SAY ANYTHING POLITICAL THAT I WANT!! Just saying. I could also take a moto without a helmet, legally, and cross national borders, legally… At any rate **
Rumors go between Bongo’s son and daughter, both ministers (sim. to Secretaries in the Cabinet in the USA) in the government taking power. Other people think it’ll be another family, another party. We shall see. So far it has perturbed Cameroon’s World Cup qualifier against Gabon, moved it back a few months.
2) So after what happened to Bongo, Biya is afraid of the same thing happening to him. Supposedly. It’s amazing, seeing him on TV, how exactly he looks like his state photo that hangs everywhere…it’s over 20 years old. That’s a lot of makeup and hair dye. But what’s hilarious to me – and what I expressed to my Cameroonian friends, who agree, is the absurdity of officially refuting what EVERYONE knows is true. Everyone knows he’s really a dictator, and that everyone in government steals money. A lot of money. This is a rich country where the people are poor. Though, the illegality of the taking money is questionable. Biya likes changing laws in his fashion. If he wants to run for another term, he changes the constitution. So the maximum number of terms, legally, is always one more than his current one. So maybe the amount of money he gets is also in the constitution. A few months ago, a man was arrested for complaining in a taxi about Biya blocking all the roads in Yaoundé whenever he moves through the capital. He had the misfortune of being next to a policeman (military police, gendarme) en civile. He’s been in prison since then.
So, to “prove” how unfounded the rumors were and how aghast and offended the “whole” country was by this NGO’s declaration, the secretary of the RDPC (BIya’s party, also CPDM) went on TV, and there was a youth rally/march in Yaoundé. The last is the most honteux. Shameful? Despicable? Disrespectful of the people. Basically the police/army paid a bunch of youths and gave them free t-shirts to march across the city “in support of Biya” and say so on TV. Whatever. Open secrets of corruption around here…gods, I just laugh at the news. Does the government think the people are stupid or blind? They’re sure as hell not.
3) Changing of government made huge news. It’s mostly shuffling old ministers around to different posts, that have nothing to do, of course, with their fields of study or qualifications. Biya is wily, though. He removes an anglophone prime minister and replaces him with an anglophone prime minister from a similar area. Removes an Ewondo from one post and replaces him with another Ewondo. Etc. Meanwhile, people get double posts – double salaries – wherein there is no way, according to me, that one can actually act as director of a hospital and minister of women and family. Or minister of defense and head of police (totally different branches here). Etc. There are so many reasons things in this country don’t function better….
I also found out from Sol that the constitution says the president is replaced, in case of death or incapacitation or whatever, by the Secretary of the Senate (like Senate pro-tem?) There isn’t a Senate here. Cases on the constitution, etc, are also supposed to be decided by the Supreme Court.
There isn’t one.
Going to Ebolowa this weekend, one of the first steps in going home...
to come, post-partum death, being called Dr. here, and research in Cameroon.