I’m on vacation (YAY). I’ve taken a couple weeks off to go home to Africa, and what a change. 98% humidity and constant 35 degree temperatures tend to slow everybody down and put a little perspective on how we live our lives and why. As we ring in the new year, most of us have made our resolutions and promised ourselves that, while we may have eased up just a little bit last year, right around January 3rd, THIS will be the year that we REALLY stick to our guns. It’s an old joke, but many of us do make our intentions in good faith.Well, here in Cameroon, they do things a bit differently. You can forget all your fancy, well intentioned New Years resolutions and get down to the real business of living as though you’re smack dab in the middle of a tropical paradise 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. So here I am, on the beach, belly distended by an “American breakfast” of eggs, meat, croissants, butter, tropical fruit and fresh squeezed juice. The day is pretty well shot as the water is freezing (28c) and the sky is overcast (still 35 degrees, though i may have to concede the tanning contest to Tatiana). I’m totally going to have a nap at 10am. Deal with it.
My brief foray into the slow motion world where I grew up has made me think a lot about my life in Canada, and how it’s veered so drastically from the way I used to roll as a native African. An 80 hour work week, fitting in time for loved ones whenever I can, and being constantly vigilant about diet and nutrition in a culture devoted to tricking us into eating calorie dense, pre-packaged garbage in order to maximize profitability from commodity crops. Tell all that to a native of Cameroon and you’ll either get a blank stare or a lecture on how you’ve basically gotten everything wrong and they’d be more than happy to spend a few hours telling you exactly how to get it right.
Our resolutions to focus less on work and spend more time with our loved ones will earn us a fair amount of confused looks around these parts as the typical day revolves around visiting with friends and family with some work thrown in for good measure. Three hour lunch breaks are not uncommon, and the concept of take-out coffee has zero basis in reality.
One of the most common new year’s resolutions is the commitment to eat right. It’s a noble concept and a decent starting point, but back in the western world we run up against some pretty difficult obstacles. Ours is a world of convenience, where most of us eat alone while staring at a television/computer/book because the focus has been taken off the social aspect of the sharing of food. We’re bombarded with fad diets and false information. It’s getting so that we need a degree in nutrition just to navigate the arcane encryption of an ingredient list. It all leads to the question: “What, exactly, do you mean by ‘eat right?'” Most people won’t be able to answer this question correctly, and it’s not hard to see why. We shop at supermarkets which contain THOUSANDS of food products, of which about 5% are OK to eat on a regular basis. This “lost in the wilderness” aspect of nutrition sort of falls by the wayside when you can grab whatever you want off the shelf around here, and chances are pretty good that it doesn’t come in a fancy box with 100% whole grain! Source of 9 essential nutrients! emblazoned on the front while being a vehicle for 14 chemically induced by-products of corn. Shopping is a markedly different experience around here.
To my family and friends here, I obviously don’t get it, and they’ve been more than happy to explain the why and how of it (every Cameroonian I’ve ever met is an expert on pretty much everything). With my return trip to the hectic, media saturated western world fast approaching, I’ll have to smile and nod at the well intentioned instruction and go forward with my original plan, perhaps spiced with a dash of reinvigorated African wisdom.
Work like a Canadian, socialize like an African
Train like a Canadian, play like an African
Eat like an African (seriously, they have way better food than we do)
*Sigh*, here I go again. My new to-do list is started already. I don’t have to do this, the ocean is waiting for me, we’ll talk again next week:)