Monday, September 26, 2011

abrasive kindness

25 september 2011

French is obviously not my first language and while I can speak it and understand it about 90% of the time, there are times when I’m very confused by attitude. I’m getting used to it, but it’s not really something I had to learn at training because my family was Anglophone, so I didn’t have to pay as close of attention to tone and intonation. But now that I’m out here on my own, trying to make friends and hug mamas, I have to pay attention really closely to what people are actually saying because paying attention just to how they say it causes real confusion.
For example, people yell at one another here. Just about every time I go to my spaghetti omelet shack for breakfast, the cook gets into what I used to think was a heated, angry, intense argument with another patron, only to almost immediately fizzle out. Apparently, people just yell at one another here – when they are not angry.
Also, finger shaking is a big trend here. If, in America, a man talked to me while shaking his pointer finger in my face, I’d probably either punch him in the dick-area or cry of embarrassment. But here, it’s just a way of clarifying what you’re saying and it’s very common. Plus, if I were to punch a Cameroonian man in the dick, he’d probably murder me and then tell my corpse that women come second and I should know my place. Actually, he’d probably say it to whatever man I was with and ask him to tell me it because sometimes they don’t talk to me at all, they just talk to a nearby man about me and then act shocked when I look over.
Forced hospitality is something I’m really starting to love. I went to a baptism today and the mama of the girl being baptized saw us leaving after eating and cornered us to yell at us because the party was only just starting, we couldn’t leave yet, and we must stay. She said it all very authoritatively and with an abrasive kindness that actually made me want to stay. Unfortunately I had to catch a car back to Bangangte so I thanked her and kissed her on the cheek. When I thanked her, she grabbed me by both shoulders and very firmly told me, “No, it is ME who is thanking YOU.”
People here are overwhelmingly kind, it just doesn’t reflect in their speech or mannerisms.

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