John the Baptist is probably only two years old, but who really knows for sure. They found him abandoned along the side of the road. Until recently they weren’t sure he knew how to smile. Sometimes he stands outside just gazing off, and I wonder if he is back on that road again, searching for his parents — waiting for them to come back. When I pass him like this I will get right up to his face, doing everything in my power to get his attention, but it’s as if he is looking right through me. I physically move his mouth into a smile with my own hands, but other than a few blinks he remains still. I often bring him to my room to sleep at night. He always starts out happy, laughing as he throws the ball around or builds with blocks. However, once it is time to lie down he screams as if absolutely terrified. It ceases quickly, but those few seconds of terror leave me wondering what trauma he faced before the abandonment.
She is called the “Crowned Princess,” for her beauty, although her true name is Pomela Grace. She is not yet one year old. She was found outside a church as prayers were being said, alongside her placenta.
No longer here, Glory was disowned when her mother’s new boyfriend decided he didn’t like the child. A few months later I guess he changed his mind.
Am I Safe Here?
Auntie Priscilla arrived shortly after me. She was in her early 30’s and when I first met her she kept saying how happy she was to see me, as if we were long lost friends. She had her own children, but I never understood where they were. She never beat children except for when some of the older women here told her to, and when she did it seemed she wasn’t going to stop. She beat the child with a sickening smile across her face, as if aroused by the pain she was producing. One day she was gone. One of the older women found her wandering at 3am. She had left her room and went to sleep on the street then wandered back and said she wasn’t aware of the time. She had to leave after that because her presence was no longer safe.
I met Antankana after being in Cameroon for a week. We introduced ourselves and I asked him if he was in school. He told me he wasn’t because he just got out of prison, where he had been for 10 years. Figuring it was a touchy subject, I tried to redirect our conversation, but soon discovered he had been in prison due to murder. Him and another man were arguing over land when Antankana hit the man with a machete, mistakenly killing him. After being released he moved from Douala to Good Shepherd and had to change his identity so the man’s brothers wouldn’t come find him. Great first impression.
Rat on a Stick
One of my students approached me at the end of break holding out a long stick. At the end was a bloody rat (really a mouse, but they call them rats) who had clearly been stabbed. It was about two inches long. She looked at me with a devilish grin, waved it around and then proceeded to chase after other children. I yelled at her to chuck it and reluctantly she went. On her way she poked it towards other children and threw it once or twice. Later I was told that she stuck it down a younger child’s dress. This was the third rat encounter in one week. One rat we found squashed under our make-shift door stop. It is in fact another door we push against our classroom door. Another was stuck in my rat glue, which I quickly got a student of mine to remove. They find my squeamishness amusing.
It is so rare to see other “white men,” here and so when we do it is normal to talk to them. There is one café where white people tend to congregate due to their good coffee and Americanized menu options. They even have pizza, although the cheese is scarce. On one Friday as my friends and I were at that café, we started a conversation with an entire cricket team. This ended with an invitation to help coach cricket, a game only one of us knew. We took the bus with them, which we were amazed by and commented how it was like an airplane. Them, only being here for two weeks, laughed and said it was nothing like an airplane. If they had seen the public transportation, they would understand. We didn’t do much coaching at the match, but we did help the children cheer every single name of the thirty players on their team as they were up at bat. I’m sure those children hated me. On our ride home we took a bike, and were followed by another biker who played love songs to my friend Kate and tried to serenade her with his own singing. A few days later Georgia and I were serenaded by a biker with the famous “white man” song. I asked him if he wanted me to sing back to him and he said “no,” so I did. I sang the “black man,” song to him and he told me I couldn’t sing as he rode away.
I find myself riding on the back of a strangers bike every few days. I have become good at picking out the safe drivers. They are the one’s who wear helmets, so they actually care about their lives and therefore drive slower and safer. This doesn’t mean I am always going to make it to my destination though. The other day I had just purchased a large amount of stuffed animals and was carrying them in a bag over my back like the younger, female version of Santa Clause. I wanted to go to the library before going to dance and I had a good sense of where the library was. I told the biker to take me to the “Baptist Center,” and he nodded as if he understood. Then as we were going he kept asking me the place I wanted to go, and it seemed he was saying something different. I reiterated that I wanted to go to the “Baptist Center,” and once again he nodded in understanding. Then he tried to go the wrong way and I told him to go straight instead. He said that the way he wanted to go was shorter and so I said okay. Long story short, the place I ended up at was not the Baptist Center, although initially I was unsure. I wandered around lost for ten minutes until I made my way back to the main road. Thankfully, I found another biker pretty quickly and was able to direct him to the right place, which was in the complete opposite direction. Because I lost my phone and do not have a new SIM card yet, getting lost here could mean getting lost forever due to the inability to call anyone.
When two albino Cameroonian children start singing the “White Man” song as they pass me on the road and I am unsure whether I should inform them of their identity crisis.
When Antankana, the murderer, pointed out my henna and even though I explained it would come off he still judged me for it and essentially said it isn’t Christian to have it. It was tiny and only on my middle finger, but I guess the temporary ink is still worse than killing somebody.
When I find myself binge eating at an orphanage due to so much stress and chocolate being my stress release. Who would think I would leave an orphanage larger than when I came? But really, I just resort to eating tartina (their nuttela) when the stress is too much to deal with and I need some sort of escape. It gives me temporary release, but then moments later I get another onslaught of stressful feelings.
The Way of Life
The moment children are born, each and every action they make is their own doing and their own fault. In America, parents are usually judged when the child makes a mistake due to the idea that the child’s actions reflect the mother and father’s parenting skills. That is not the case in Cameroon. If a child here does poorly in school, it is not the teacher’s fault, but the child either isn’t working hard or is just slow. When a child here poops in the bed, it is not the fault of the care-taker who shut them in there at 8:00 that night (only allowing them an hour to go between nap and bed), but it is the child purposefully wanting to cause trouble and make the care-taker do more work. Therefore, the child gets beaten because they were unable to control their bodily functions at the age of 2 or 3.