As I step onto my porch, I gaze at the mountains that divide my small village in the “middle of no-where” Cameroon from that behemoth called Nigeria. I think to myself how strange it is to be here. I don’t know why I think this since this place has become my reality. I have largely forgotten the boredom of sitting in traffic on some freeway or the smells as I stand in line waiting for a burger (though the latter I am patiently waiting to be reminded of somewhat soon). Now what is on my mind is the task of the day: I must remind all those who will be participating in my water committee to come. The two previous meetings were a failure with only a few people showing. But I have a good feeling about this one. I think I have finally picked those who truly care whether Nyamboya has proper drinking water or not. So I leave my porch, preparing myself for the circus of languages that is my life in village.
As I walk past some palm trees near my house, my Kwandja neighbors greet me. “Manini (how are you)?”, they ask in the local Kwandja Language. “Jonti (all is fine)! Manier (how is your health)?”, I respond. “Jonti!”, they call back while in fits laughter. They are still so pleased and intrigued that this “nassara” (white man) has learned some of their language. As I round yet another mango tree, I pass a local boutique owner. As a man of the Muslim Fulbe tribe, he is wearing an outfit that looks like it came straight out of Lawrence of Arabia. He greets me in fullfullde with a “Jamna (how are you)?”. The Fulbe are funny because whenever they greet you, they ask a ton of questions. It usually goes like this: “Noy Somri (how is your health)?” with the other person responding “Jam (fine)”, “Jam Saare Na (How is your house)?” with the other person responding “Jam”, “Noy Deebo (how is your wife)?” with the other person responding “Jam”, Noy Binkoy (How are your children)?” with the other person responding “Jam” and so on and so on for what sometimes seems like minutes. When I tell this particular man “walla deebo, walla binkoy (I do not have a wife or children)” he laughs and laughs, as per usual, and tells me he will find me some good wives (notice the plural). I cut the introductions short because I have business by saying “Jam ko-du-mee (everything is fine)” and “sey yea so (see you soon)”. As I pass through the field in front of the Catholic Church on my way to the market, I see the local priest, Father Andre. I call out “Bon Jour (good morning)” and approach him. He has been instrumental in helping me plan this water meeting and we converse in French for about 10 or 15 minutes about what going we are going to say. I leave him with an “a bientot” and head towards the market. When I reach the market, I go see my favorite bread guy. He comes from the English speaking part of the country but, unfortunately for me, only speaks pidgin English. “How for you?”, he asks with his somewhat creepy smile. “I de fine”, I respond and then say “I wakka for bread (I would like to purchase some bread)”. Cameroonian pidgin English, or at least the stuff they speak in my village, is a strange mix of german, local patwas and English. You hear it and it sounds like you should be able to understand it, but you don’t. I part with a “small time (see you soon)”, for I have many more people to speak many more languages with.
This is one of the things that I really like about my village: the fact that I can get up and speak five different languages during the day, even if, besides French and normal English, I only know some basic phrases.
That day ended with my first successful water committee meeting and the thought that if I leave this place with anything, it will be the language and culture I have learned here. For there is so much of both.