I have only been here in Santa since Monday but it seems that I have been here for 6 months now. Meetings have been going on and I have been in most of them – Eric, the volunteer I will be replacing, has been really nice and considerate to do a formal handover for me. I am luckier because he is still here to guide me for at least a week, introduce me to people I will be working with and to people he had gotten close to in the 1.5 years he’s been here. Good thing I got in touch with him before I arrived in Cameroon. J we have gone through the ID process and the things he had accomplished with the TAP during his placement. I will be holding office at his small office which used to be a prison cell, how’s that for security? Hahahaha. I have a table and about 6 chairs. No cabinets or shelves for files I will be organizing. None yet anyway so I will ask the mayor for them.
Two workshops were held (I attended both) last week on the Action-Learning Project, which were facilitated by the Regional Learning Advisors from different country offices (Ghana, UK and Canada). They also had a meeting with the Santa Local Council on Tuesday (also the first contact meeting with the council for me), mainly because the National Volunteering Scheme is being piloted here.
Today Gideon, a short-term VSO volunteer (STV) who will be monitoring the ID process in all of the placements came by Santa to meet with me and Eric to start the process here. I don’t know how he will do that in 2 months but we’ll see.
Philippa, the other volunteer (YfD) in Santa as OD advisor for the CEAC, who will also be my housemate, joined us in going around the town getting to know people. Philly has so far, met her Director and no other person in the CEAC, but the Local Council had welcomed us both knowing that we will be staying in town for a longer period. So far it has really been great and the Lord Mayor was very surprised to know that we already know our way around the town (the “sentro” at least) and have gone to the market, two mimbo houses (mimbo = drink) and the small restaurant (carinderia) that Mami Rose had just opened.
It’s been a blur remembering names but I think I will do fine – I will have to start with people I will be seeing everyday: Madam Mayor (that’s the mayor’s wife) who runs the small store about two houses away from where I’m staying now (Eric’s old place). Her name is Celine. And the small boy who is helping her at the store is Desmond.
Papa Victor is the old man living beside my small office who always greets me every morning when I pass him by. I would usually find him listening to his transistor radio and he would always, always greet me in Pidgin – which I love. He would always say “tomaro?” when I wave at him in the afternoon, meaning we would see each other again the next day. I like him.
I have met two Nicolenes – one being the Mayor’s private secretary (whom I would be closely working with since she is also a TAP member) and the lady who owns another mimbo house we visited today, and also the leader of the choir who adopted us.
People’s names reflect the community’s affinity with positive traits and religiosity: so far I have met Godwill, Godlove, 2 Gideons, Magdalene, Patrick (a very common name), Henry, Joy, Blessing, Modesty, Meekness, Sunday, Freedom…you get the drift. I have also met a number of Henrys, Erics and Samuels.
One thing that is very notable with Cameroonians is how formal everyone is, shaking hands with everyone ALL the time. I don’t know how it is in the Far North but here at the Northwest, hand-shaking is as common as cocoyams. Children as young as 1yr old would seriously shake hands with people they meet everywhere, usually kids of mimbo house owners would shake hands with every customer in their mimbo houses (actually their homes). Greeting each other on the streets with a handshake, a “good morning/afternoon/evening” and “how are you” is the way of life. I have yet to get used to it since I find it too tedious. That, and smiling at everyone I see/meet on the streets or anywhere else for that matter, is something that takes time to getting used to. I love it though, in fact I get so into it that I always offer my hand to shake everyone else’s, even with fellow volunteers. Hahaha.
Picture this. You come out of your house and meet someone, you say good morning and shake their hand. You say something nice, shake again. Say goodbye, another shake. Do that to about 15 people you meet on your way to the office – about 3 minutes away. Masaya? Haha.
Santa is much, much friendlier than Yaounde and Bamenda. There is some kind of familiarity that transcends age and status and it is definitely refreshing in so many ways. The mayor walks about like everyone else – no bodyguards or assistants. He escorts us to see our house that is still being constructed just to assure us that it will be ready for us to move in soon. I like him too!
i think i will love it here 🙂
(PS, wrote this last week pa)