Like many others, I’ve always wanted to visit all parts of the world, leave my footprint and a part of me in every corner of the globe, but of course fantasizing about conquering the planet is easier said than done. And although I’ve done my fair share of traveling I couldn’t quite picture myself, with the blue backpack stuck to my spine, saying: “Bye, bye mom and dad, I’m off to Cameroon”. But it happened. Along with a girl from Spain and a guy from Estonia, we spend 3 dream-like months in Cameroon, as part of the European Volunteering Service. The importance of this experience surely cannot be described in a couple of pages, so a short overview and my first impressions will have to do for now, and hopefully in another occasion I’ll be able to tell you more about working with African NGOs, working with visually impaired children, teaching basic English to Muslim women or about the picturesque black beaches, volcanoes that take your breath away or rainforests where even Tarzan would get lost.
Looking back at things now, I can say that I most definitely went through a cultural shock, but if you asked me back then, I would have denied it, since I wasn’t aware. I have never been to Africa before, so I tried not to have any concrete expectations and to be ready and prepared for anything. The moment I arrived a mixture of silent fear and loud adrenaline rush took over me. We all got into a car and took off to the city of Buea. The following days we had our ups and downs, some adjustments needed to be done with the hosting organization, so things started moving, I guess. Actually, things started to crawl, and crawl very slowly. We, in Europe are so accustomed to work under pressure and to be in a rush all the time that the lifestyle in Africa came quite as a surprise. If something needs to be done around here it is usually developed in a couple of stages: First you think about what you want to do. Then you rest for a while, because all the thinking has made you tired. Afterwards, you have to sleep on it, because maybe the next day you’ll feel different about the whole situation.
Next morning you should wait for someone to remind you about the thing you were supposed to do the previous day. Then you go through the process of contemplating the idea. To cut long story short, stages from this process can be repeated infinite times, and there is no “expiration date” on your request or chores. This can be a good and a bad thing for us, the volunteers. We were working on our patience and learning how to deal with anxiety and nervousness- an illness that every 2nd European suffers from. On the other hand however, if we got too comfortable with that lifestyle, I think we wouldn’t have been able to survive in Europe. So, much to our likings, a 3 months period of learning, observing and adapting to the cultural differences began…
Ok, and since I was never good with counting words I have to stop here for now.
text by Milena Jankovska