Friday, June 15, 2007

Andrew on leaving Cameroon

As I told you in the last post, Andrew and Thomas will be traveling to Burkina Faso in a little more than a week. The boys return to West Africa after an absence of almost five years. Both are eager to return and have many fond memories of our year in Cameroon. Just last night as we sat on the porch after dark, talking by candlelight to the music of droplets falling from rain soaked oak trees, we reminisced about our days there. We laughed a lot remembering the "crazy men" in the market, the hordes of children that seemed to come from nowhere whenever any of our children walked out the door with a soccer ball, the thunderstorms that rolled in every afternoon during rainy season, and more...

In a recent paper that he wrote a paper for his Rhetoric class, Andrew penned his thoughts on the experience of leaving Cameroon. He gave me permission to share this paper with you but reminded me that it was for a class assignment, "Remember, Mommy, this was a figures of speech paper so, if you post this on your blog, you might want to say something to that effect; I think this essay would have been different (and better) if it weren't for the figures of speech stipulation." With that qualifier, then, here is Andrew's recollection:

“If I know a song of Africa…of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the ploughs in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me?” – from Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen.
The front gate of the rest house thrust open its wide arms and propelled us out into the African thoroughfare. The sights of Africa inundated me for the last time. Everything now was so familiar, so normal, so beautiful. I tried to take it all in, remember it all; it would all be lost to me soon. Puddles began to form in my eyes threatening to destroy my peaceful, calm attitude.

The same streets that a year before had seemed so destitute and squalid now shone at me in a different light. I hadn’t noticed the elegant, towering palm trees before, or the beautiful blue bay, or the sparkling colors of the African clothing, or the smiling faces of those same muddy, rag-covered children. Before, depression and despair had suffocated me; now hope and happiness allowed me to breathe freely. This place that had once seemed so foreign to me had become my dearly beloved home.

As I watched the city fly by, memories from the last year engulfed me. First, there had been severe pain. Arrival culture shock intensified by a dreadful car accident had turned my dreams of Africa into a nightmare. Then, for two prolonged weeks I had been grossly ill. Food was manure to me; nothing pleased me and nothing would stay in my troubled stomach. When I finally recovered, I was sick of Africa and wanted desperately to return home.

Then there had been social dread. The thing I feared the most was the one thing I needed most. I was afraid to befriend the African children; I, with my blond hair, blue eyes, and quiet voice, was so incredibly different from them. Their fast-spoken pidgin intimidated me, their loud, harsh voices intimidated me, and their rowdiness intimidated me. Then Sam Jumkwi came along and changed my view of Africa forever. Oddly enough, he was the fastest speaker of the fast, the loudest of the loud, and the rowdiest of the rowdy. For some reason, we had an affinity for one another and quickly became the best of friends. From him I learned how to speak Pidgin, how to barter in the rambunctious market place, how to cook African food, how to eat properly: how to truly love Africa. Now the puddles in my eyes turned into streams as the picture of Sam waving to me when our van departed from our hometown of Ndu played through my memory.

The image of the long dry season came back to my mind. Dust had covered the houses, trees, and ground like snow in a New England winter. Then, without warning, the rain had come turning everything to orange mud. Overnight, the entire countryside had been transformed into a beautiful, green landscape. The hills on the far side of the valley had shone with an African radiance. Each evening, we watched those western hills as a beautiful masterpiece of art that only the hands of God could create was painted before our eyes: an African sunset.

The van stopped; reality came flooding back to me. We piled out of the Pajero taking our few boxes. For the last time, I smelled the sweet, smoky scent of diesel fumes and wood fires; for the last time I saw the beautiful African city choked with run-down yellow taxis; and for the last time I laid my saddened eyes on the place I now proudly called home.


Kelly said...

Lovely, Andrew. A great piece of writing!

Jessica said...

Very beautiful! I hope you guys have a safe journey and a wonderful, memorable time on your trip!

amanda said...

Great stuff, Andrew. I love how you write with your senses—especially your segue of color in the “dry season” paragraph. Beautiful. Can we expect to hear more from Burkina Faso? … Please? I pray that your time there will be as rich.