I’ve always had difficulty shaking my hips like the pro’s, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. One thing I have never had trouble with, however, is dressing up in ridiculous (read: highly un-sexy) costumes. On one single day, both of these phenomena came together for a magnificent explosion of culture and life (okay, maybe “explosion” is a bit dramatic).
This past Saturday I had the very exciting opportunity to take a local dance class taught by Georgette, a Cameroonian from the Northeast part of the country (predominately English-speaking and touching the border of the Central African Republic) and wife of my new friend James (a Director for one of the local Peace Corps projects, and coincidentally a super awesome guy). Georgette picked me up and we headed to the class, held in an old abandoned nightclub with dirt floors and faded posters still strewn about its walls. Two gentlemen arrived at the same time as us, and we walked up to the gate together past the baby chickens running around (can’t take it! too precious!). As Georgette tried to get a hold of the other dancers, one unanswered phone call after another, it became clear that the “class” would be just her and me. *Gulp*
In a nutshell: the experience was an absolute blast. We learned six steps, all involving moving feet, chest, arms and hips together at the same time… and fast. There were lots of laughs, especially when Georgette insisted that I perform the routine on my own as she pretended to be an audience member. Oh, did I mention that the two guys were playing live bongos the whole time? So cool!
As we walked back to the street after class, Georgette and I chatted about her dancing background, which I knew involved indigenous Cameroonian dance… but when I asked at a certain point in her story, “what brought you to Shanghai?” she replied that it was during her time with the National Ballet of Cameroon. Whoa.
Later that night, my new roommate Kaitlin and I ventured out to a Mardi Gras gathering hosted by a Greek woman who’s lived in Yaoundé for over 11 years. I felt lucky to have received the invitation (as I imagined being stuck inside the apartment all weekend long), but apparently there was a strict “no costume, no entry” rule. Normally I’d dive into my drawer of costume accessories back home and whip up something Halloween worthy, but since I’d left the tutu’s, fake noses & moustaches back in California, I had only Kaitlin’s friend’s face paint (and matching devil horns?) to count on (thank you, Erica!) The gathering was a bit on the awkward side, especially since I knew only a couple of people, and I felt uncomfortable that the only Cameroonians around were either serving food & drinks or were standing outside the gate, guarding all of our safety. Perhaps it’s naive and my experiences over the coming months will help explain this kind of common separation between expats and locals, but so far I’m not loving it.
The party was relatively uneventful, but one thing did make the night stand out: purse burgers. Right before leaving, we noticed a platter of sandwiches headed to the party’s banquet table, and Kaitlin, Erica and I schemed a plan to hamburgle some dinner on our way out. What I thought to be bologna sandwiches were in fact freshly-cooked hamburgers, individually wrapped and still warm to the touch. A couple of hours of screaming at party guests over the ridiculously loud music and anxiously watching the guards outside of the door were all made worthwhile by this unexpected tasty treat.
In fairness, I did meet some really interesting and nice people at the shin dig. And, I have a great idea for this year’s Halloween costume!