Strangely Comfortable in a Foreign Land

Kendra Haven ’14, Abroad Columnist

As I lie on my back and reflect on my 11th day in Cameroon, I am just now realizing that I forgot to take my anti-malaria medication this morning. With impeccable timing, the mosquito inside my canopy net is mocking me, drilling the imminent threat of malaria into my head. Just when I forget about him, it seems that he returns to haunt his favorite niche: my inner-ear.

Though I’d really like to capture this little guy between my fingers, putting an end to his obsessive affection for my ear lobes, I have to give him some credit for inspiring tonight’s reflection. Feelings of discomfort are commonplace for a foreigner in Cameroon, and they come and go in waves—forgotten in one moment, and remembered almost immediately in the next.

Let’s take the example of food. In Cameroon, eating is so much more than a process of satiation. As a newcomer to the culinary traditions of this country, my state of my stomach has been alternating back and forth between hunger and nausea. After moving in with our host families, most of us learned to recognize the horrified look in our parents’ eyes when we did not fill our entire plates with rice. For the sake of the image, that horrified expression is probably similar to the one that stole across my face when my host father explained the fate of the family chicken. According to papa, the person killing the chicken in this “story” is me, with my own bare hands as my only props.

Last night, if I hadn’t filled my stomach with four pistachio-covered bananas in one sitting, I may not have learned to understand the importance of a hearty meal in Cameroonian culture. I also wouldn’t have learned the French phrase for I am full… seriously, unbelievably full, but thank you so much. Here in Yaoundé, discomfort complements shock and surprise, and oftentimes, regret; but at the same time, it lays the foundation for personal growth. I am sure that there is something to be gained from the uncomfortable experience of killing the chicken that wakes you up every morning, though at this point, I could only hazard a guess as to what that lesson is.

I haven’t yet found tonight’s mosquito imposter, as he seems to move faster than any mosquito I have ever met in the entirety of my life. Perhaps I’ll get to him eventually. Discomfort, though, will continue to follow me, as it will the other eleven Dickinsonians in Yaoundé this semester. Given how much we’ve already learned in only two weeks, I don’t think any of us would change that.