Lately it has come to my attention that I can be something of an asshole when I’m feeling unsure of myself. I try to be a mature person for the most part, kind and thoughtful. The kind of person who is aware of other people’s feelings, and of how my actions or words will affect them. Recently however, I’ve realized that most of that goes out the window when I feel uncomfortable, or scared, and sometimes even when I’m just tired. Probably I had fleeting thoughts about this particular personality trait of mine back when I wasn’t feeling uncomfortable and scared and tired on a regular basis—but that is the glory of fleeting thoughts…they fleet.
But here in this new life of mine I am bound to feel…blotchy—as Tom Hanks so eloquently describes himself in that masterpiece of American cinema Joe vs. the Volcano—any number of times throughout the day, and it turns out that when that happens, rather than rising to the occasion, rather than just grabbing a pair and getting on with life, I tend to retreat into brattiness. I become downright petulant. I think sometimes I whine, although I’m doing it in French so it’s hard to tell. Either way I am like your annoying teenage sister—I just don’t understand why the world has to be against me! I mean, God!
In light of this less than flattering realization, I’ve decided to start listening, and I mean, really listening, to the King of Pop, since the only singer I hear more than Michael Jackson in this country is Celine Dion. (Oh my god Cameroonians love Celine Dion. I should have realized back in Philadelphia, when all 42 of us had been herded into some anonymous federal building to await our turns to be pumped full of weakened yellow fever and polio cocktails, and Celine Dion’s Greatest Hits started pumping through the speakers in what we assumed was just a random moment of hilarity, that in fact it wasn’t randomat all. It was some greater force trying to prepare us for what was to come. Oh how we’d laughed that carefree morning. Oh the innocence of being raised in a country that doesn’t worship a bobble-headed French Canadian.) ‘Start with the man in the mirror’ you say Michael? Hmm. Ok then. Perhaps I’ll grow a little, as person, or something. [Authors Note: The realization that your ‘asides’ take up four times as much space as the ‘substance’ of your paragraph is also less than flattering. It tends to make one question ones definition of ‘substance’. Luckily, the benefit of being they type of person with a loose definition of substance is that you also aren’t much inclined to worry about it. But now, lets get back to ‘it’, shall we?]
If only Cameroonians were more like Americans. I actually catch myself thinking this every once in a while! See? Asshole. The longer I’m hear the more I realize that all the stereotypes about Americans being time-obsessed and anal-retentive are true. Or at least they seem to be true for me. Oh how I love to be on time! Oh how I cherish efficiency! Traffic laws and orderly lines at the post office and restaurants that can actually serve you everything they list on the menu. It seems that I love that up tight, meddlesome, practically German only it’s not cause its so American, way of life I won’t be living for 22 more months.
And the thing is, the thing that bugs me, is that I’m not at all sure how to feel about this. (This is just one thing I’m not at all sure how to feel about, but I can only handle writing about one mental crisis at a time before I go back to listening to the Cure and painting my toenails.) I mean, being time-obsessed and anal-retentive is bad, right? Everyone knows that. Except I’m pretty sure being time-obsessed and anal-retentive is what lead, eventually, to traffic lights and single file lines and menus that don’t have to be vetted. I’ve staggered my way toward the conclusion the answer must involve a balance of some sort, as the answer nearly always does, but the trouble is that I’ve always been a rather clumsy person—balance has never been my strong point. Which is why you will currently find me teetering around in this country like a 13 year old girl in her first pair of heals, wanting what I resent and resenting what I want until I’m so tired and cranky I don’t even know what to think anymore and I have to go listen to Pictures of You on repeat until I can face the world again. It’s exhausting.
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Alas, adolescent mental melodrama is one aspect of my life here, but it would be unfair and inaccurate to lead you to believe it’s all existential doom and gloom here in The Roon. For one thing I eat popcorn at least twice a week, and I firmly believe it’s impossible to be cranky while eating popcorn, especially if you use as much oil as I do to prepare it. For another I’m starting to be just the tiniest bit…I hesitate to say ‘busy’…perhaps…‘not quite so bored’. I have started three health clubs at the local schools, and the beginning of each meeting is the most curious mix of terror/boredom I’ve ever experienced. (I’m terrified, they’re bored.) But once I’ve given in to the fact that my French is crappy—once I’ve reaccepted that little kernel of truth one more time—I generally start to have a little fun. Imagine that! I listen as intently as I can while they talk, and then reply in my, I can only assume, charmingly fumbled français, and we all laugh together at the silly white girl who can’t even talk right and what the hell is she doing here again? I just hope I manage to make it clear to them between now and December of 2009.
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My best friend here is a ten year old named Joyce. She’s very useful for teaching me the French for random words like ‘scrunchy’ and she once found me a sachet of whiskey. That sounds sordid—what I mean is she pointed out to me a boutique that would most likely have sachets of whiskey to sell me. (Shopping here is like a hilarious game-every time I decide to treat myself to a mambo bar (chocolate! sort of!) or maybe some eggs I have to wander from store to store asking if they have the item I’m looking for that day. Its always a mystery as to whether or not the reply will be ‘c’est fini‘ and I’ll have to slink off to the next store like some poor Dickensian orphan. ‘Please sir, avez-vous les oeufs?’) After our initial greetings, Joyce will sometimes ask me if I washed my hair that day. Sometimes I will have, and others not. I can never figure out what the deciding factor is in her asking—am I particularly sweaty on those days, giving me a just out of the shower appearance? Perhaps I just happen to look fresh as a daisy about twice a week? Somehow I doubt that second one.
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