Monday, December 10, 2012

Surprise! This isn't just a design blog!

Thoughts of late (still coming to you from Douala, Cameroon):

1. My hotel has these really cute bronze bells shaped like roosters. I kind of want one. However, I feel very awkward ringing the bell for service, but its the system here! There are no phones in the rooms so if I need something, I am supposed to ring the bell, and someone comes immediately running to my assistance. It feels so... colonial, so baronesque. The bell rests on a wicker table outside my door on the veranda. So when I must do the deed, I sneak outside, make sure no one is looking, ring the bell quickly, and scamper back in my room to sit innocently and wait for someone to come knock. Somehow it makes it feel less weird. Kind of.

Its cute though, right?!
2. Malaria has done a number on my stomach. Nothing gross, I’m just slightly nauseous all the time, and sometimes I find myself cough/gagging out of nowhere (sorry, tmi). I still get hungry, but then about 20 bites earlier than usual, I look longingly at my plate of half untouched food with absolutely no desire or ability to eat any more. Its amazing and mind boggling, all at the same time. I’m part sad at not enjoying one of my greatest pleasures in life—the delicacy of delicious food, and I’m part delighted that I’m dieting without having to torture myself. And no apologies, because it really wouldn’t hurt me to lose a few lbs in preparation for the holidays ;)

3. Through my travels and experience in Africa and elsewhere, I am often reminded at how lucky I feel to have been born in my country and culture, afforded the many rights I have as a woman and world citizen. Truth be told, I lean towards cultural relativism on many issues, and even more so as I’ve lived abroad (ie. I may not be religious but I totally get religion and religious motivations in certain contexts; I may not agree with X practice, but I find it valuable to truly understand the roots of said practice with as little judgment as possible before standing on any soap box.) 

That being said, I am passionate about human rights which I believe transcend all cultures, and as one of my idols famously stated, “...[H]uman rights are women's rights - and women's rights are human rights." Damn straight. I will climb on any soap box to chant that chorus. 

Anyways, I ate lunch with a lovely Cameroonian woman who is about my age today and we were talking about how it is almost unheard of for women here to live alone, particularly young women.  Even if they must relocate to a different city for a job, these women will likely be labeled as “frivolous” (read: sluts). 

Men on the other hand? Graduate high school, off you go. Ugh, it makes my blood boil! I found myself saying “Wow, I could never make it as an African woman, I would have revolted!” 

First of all, I sincerely hope this comment was not considered horrendously rude/offensive. I don’t think it was as we were “commiserating” on this inequality (except, really, what do I know of such things?). But still, I could have chosen better words. 

And then it had me thinking – would I really revolt in such a context? (Maybe- I do recall throwing some pretty strong tantrums when only the girls were made to clear the table after lunch and dinner in France. How dare they!?) But honestly, these very real societal pressures weigh on women all over the world and yet it was so easy for those words to slip out of my mouth, having been born in a culture where no one (in my community) bats an eye at an 18 year old woman with the freedom to leave the family home, or the supervision of a man. 

And then I cannot help but think to myself, I am so lucky. I will always have my Western crutch to lean on, no matter what country or continent I live on. I am able to evade these rules without so much judgment because I am other and thus subject to a different standard (though the slut label is automatic for Americans--music and movies have done us in!).

Well, food for thought. I could really go on and on when it comes to this topic (and my perception of women challenging societal pressures in so many inspiring ways, or the many disclaimers on how effed up my own culture is in many ways). But alas! Back to my ndolé and fried plantains for now.

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