Email from Cameroon

by Mark Chmiel

Dr. C,

Hello! Hope this email finds you well. Classes must be well on its way and I am sure you are enlightening many other students like myself as we speak. I’ve wanted to write you this email ever since I read the first chapters of your book about Mev. But I opted to wait until the end to write it. I picked an interesting time to read the book – a time of many changes. I first begin reading it while still in training, where I was constantly surrounded by 35 other Americans, either complaining or lamenting aspects of our lives. Just as I started to lose sight of the real reasons that I am here in Africa, your words reminded me. The “bubble” that you often mentioned in our classes still exists even here in the Peace Corps. It’s easy to surround myself with other Americans (or Chinese) and not step out of my comfort zone to “be with the people”. I thought I had burst the comfort bubble when I boarded that plane for Africa in June. Even just over these few months, I have learned that bubbles and comfort zone will always exist and one has to constantly fight hard to not be in it.

Thank you for sharing your stories with me. Not simply stories of Mev’s great work in the world, but stories of your love. Weeks ago, I was feeling lonely and thought to myself if I will ever have the “normal” relationship that others have due to the nature of my work and my goal to live in all continents minus Antarctica. Then I read your stories and know it can still happen. It took me a while to get through the book since lots were happening in my life. But last night, I picked it up again and began reading Part II and finished the book in a night.

It made me thinking about life and I can further understand the importance to live in the “present”. You just never know. I needed this inspiration as I am experiencing an interesting time as a Peace Corps volunteer – the first three months at post. Granted I still have yet spent a night alone since my friend Kate is having difficulty getting her house ready. But even so, I am experiencing a sudden loss of direction. I went from sleeping 4 hours a night to waking up without an alarm everyday. My French is better, but not great, so I struggle to really do much in my community.

However, round II is proving to be an excellent decision despite previous doubts. I haven’t felt so “Chinese” in a decade, thanks to the great Chinese community I stumbled upon here. Not sure how much of my blog you have been following, so I won’t repeat the stories here. I realized I have been making a clock-wise around the tour of the world, and the natural next step is going back to Asia, experiencing China. Things thus far haven’t been what I was expecting, but then I didn’t come into this with much expectation. Yesterday, I received news of Lehman Brothers filing for bankruptcy and I thought of our chats at Starbucks. I have friends whose life has been turned upside down this weekend because they lost their fancy jobs on Wall Street. I am glad I wasn’t among them and I am happy doing what I love in Africa. Again, you just never know. Even the “safe” option isn’t so safe. My friend said in an email, “I should have joined the Peace Corps, at least they don’t fire volunteers.”

I feel I could ramble on forever. I miss our chats. Hope you are well and thank you for continue teaching the others like me not only about social justice, about liberation theology, but simply about life, about following one’s heart and stepping out of comfort zone.

Future correspondences to come.

Peace and love,

Wendy

Wendy Lee is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Small Enterprise Development in Cameroon. She took Social Justice at SLU in spring 2008.