You can’t truly appreciate a hot shower and a nice restaurant until you’ve almost forgotten what they’re like. This is what I discovered this weekend when Kasia and I went to Douala for a party, and were temporarily mesmerized by the wonders that are electricity, indoor plumbing and clean linens.
Having been in Buea for a little under a month now, I have become fairly accustomed to a simpler way of life. I could say that I wake up with the crowing of roosters, but that would imply that roosters abide by the traditional ‘crow at sunup’ rule, and don’t go about it continuously throughout the night. There’s one bird in particular that I’m convinced has it out for me. He stands outside my window from about 4:30 onwards, screeching with more unbridled enthusiasm than any mild-mannered alarm clock could muster. After about 30 minutes with my head under my pillow, I decide my attempts to get back to sleep are futile, and I untangle myself from my mosquito net and roll out of bed.
Thinking vengeful thoughts of fresh chicken cutlets, I gather my toiletries and head down the hall. Presumably, the other 5 occupants of the house are undisturbed by the roosters, as the bathroom is usually available. Good, since I will need the time to silently coach myself before reluctantly pouring the first cupful of cold rainwater over my head. I had hoped that in time I would grow a thicker skin and become accustomed to this, but alas, no amount of mental trickery has enabled me to convince myself that these showers are ‘refreshing’, or ‘invigorating’, when that nagging voice of reality tells me they’re just plain cold.
Cold showers and disagreeable fowl aside, I’ve adapted. I wash my clothes in a tub outside, and brush away cockroaches without a second thought. Geckoes have become wall fixtures, and restaurants are bare structures housing a few thermoses of food and a television blaring either Nigerian movies, or WWE. Bread is yellow in colour, and typically a little bit dirty. Dirt schmirt! I might not eat the mystery meat residing in the back of my fridge in Calgary, but this is part of the culture! Arguably, it’s probably of the bacterial variety, but I digress…
I was in for a mild bout of reverse-culture shock when Kasia and I arrived in Douala, and were informed that not only did Christina have a functioning shower, but it was hot. Suddenly the bumpy 2 hours I’d spent in a taxi, wedged tightly between 3 other people seemed worth it. The festivities were going full swing, and though we were exhausted, we mingled and chatted, later having an English/French/ Arabic conversation while smoking sheesha with some of Christina’s neighbours. When I inquired about the late night food situation, our new acquaintance took it upon himself to take care of our tummies. At about 1am, we took a cab for a few minutes, and ended up outside a very nice restaurant, which appeared to have just closed for the night. Luckily our host was well connected, and we were quickly seated in the back portion of the restaurant, among several tables cloaked with spotless white linen and set with sparkling silverware. I was almost too busy taking it all in to notice the menu placed in front of me by our server. Salivating, and representing a true Albertan, I ordered steak with fries. My tendency to inhale food like a ravenous beast is a well known trait, so you would be shocked at how slowly I savoured every last bite of that meal, even finishing after my two companions. The prospect of eating a piece of meat that was not intestine or skin, and couldn’t look back at me was tremendously appealing after a month of wondering what becomes of the ‘normal’ part of the cow.
We ended our evening in a nightclub, where I was shocked to see a great variety of ethnicities. I felt almost like I could be at a bar in Canada – it was such a mixed group. Returning to the apartment quite late, this wonderful evening was capped off when I saw the soft mattress covered by crisp (freshly laundered) sheets where I was to sleep. I had no trouble dozing off that night, though I awoke with the bitter remembrance that my brief sojourn into normalcy was almost over. Not before taking advantage of Christina’s wonderful tub, though. The water was indeed hot, and I confess that I probably showered much longer than economy would approve, but I didn’t care! My rainwater at home would keep just fine for the next 6 weeks, and who knew when such an opportunity would present itself again?
All I needed now to attain nirvana was a trip to the bakery. I’d seen several on our way into the city, and had heard tantalizing tales of fresh (not to mention clean) bread, pastries, and sausage rolls. Though in a neighborhood that was apparently sketchy (we were told to only bring what money we planned to spend) the bakery did not disappoint. A huge glass display case lined an entire wall, and was filled with the most delectable looking pastries imaginable. I wanted everything, but contented myself with a ham and cheese croissant, along with some bread and cheese to take home.
We departed early in the afternoon, and arrived home before dark. Not wanting to waste precious hours of sunlight, I dragged my laundry outside and set to the task of scrubbing. Some honest labour felt in order after such luxury as I’d experienced in the previous 24 hours, and my clothes would not clean themselves. Feeling satisfied upon completing this little chore, I made myself a pot of tea and relaxed. Several cold showers may await me, but I had fresh bread and cheese, and was exceedingly happy.