|Nina Scupp '08 plays with local children in Rhumsiki, a small village in the Mandara Mountains in Cameroon's Far North Province.
After traveling for 30-odd hours in early January, my eastward trajectory had finally landed me in Yaoundé, Cameroon, the Central African city with which I would become intimately familiar over the next five months. It was late at night, and I was running on fumes as I huddled with my 17 program-mates around a small aisleless bus in front of the sagging concrete airport.
Together we looked on in mild amazement as several Cameroonian men adroitly leapt around the bus’s rooftop, lashing down a precariously balanced mountain of luggage. The towering pile of hiking packs seemingly doubled the height of the miniature bus, and we concluded that it would be a small miracle if we arrived at the Dickinson-in-Cameroon Center with all of our luggage present and accounted for.
When I pondered aloud the efficacy of this elaborate process, a South African student rolled her eyes and, as if imparting one of life’s greatest secrets, sagely announced to the group, “Guys, this is Africa.”
While none of us quite understood what she meant at the time, the phrase took hold, and it became a refrain of sorts as we struggled to make sense of our new surroundings.
“This is Africa,” a term lifted from the recent film Blood Diamond, soon was simplified to the readily accessible acronym T.I.A.
Though T.I.A. quickly became our re-sponse to all things outside our realm of normalcy, it was primarily used to explicate the inexplicable, the absurd and the frustrating.
When our water and electricity disappeared for several days, someone would invariably sigh, “Ah well, T.I.A.” The same response was elicited when we boarded a public bus to find live goats riding in the luggage compartments or when gendarmes waved AK-47s in our faces demanding we pay a les blanches tax, a fictitious fine for being Westerners. “T.I.A.,” we’d say in response to a taxi ride that involved careening down a sidewalk on the wrong side of the road.
But as we adapted to the city and the Cameroonian way of life, we began to see a method to the madness. We found beauty in the chaotic marketplaces and came to embrace that an event scheduled for a certain time meant give or take several hours or days. We learned the art of slowing down, threw away our day planners and woke up in the mornings thinking, “What do I want to do today?” rather than “What do I have to do today?”
We spent endless lazy hours playing cards with the neighborhood men at the corner bar, bonded over avocadoes with the produce-stand lady and were routinely beat-en in impromptu “football” matches against the 9-year-old boy who lived below us.
As we befriended our neighbors and interacted in the community, we came to realize that T.I.A. needn’t be confined to connoting perceived corruption and hassles.
Instead, T.I.A. took on a more holistic meaning. It became the relaxed, all-in-good-time attitude, the effervescent hospitality and the boundless patience as we struggled to produce coherent French. T.I.A. was no longer just a crutch to elucidate the unfamiliar but, rather, it grew into an all-encompassing term of endearment.
Now back in Carlisle, upper-level courses, a senior thesis and the fateful postgraduation plans loom ahead of me. It would be easy to slip back into the high-stress Red Bull-chugging collegiate world, forgetting all that Cameroon taught me about taking the time to enjoy each day as it comes. So, I’m fighting the urge to chart out my life in the nearest day planner and, although there’s an ocean and a few thousand miles between Africa and me, I’m doing my best to keep the T.I.A. spirit alive.
Nina Scupp ’08, an English major, studied abroad in Cameroon last spring semester and interned with Dickinson Magazine this summer.