You Should Care About Cameroon Too

22 11 2015

Today ends an exhausting, but invigorating, week-long conference called GreenBuild, hosted this year in Washington DC. We packed up our bags, thanked our AirBnB host, Elizabeth, and walked three blocks to the Metro stop to catch the yellow line to the Ronald Reagan International Airport. It is SO great to be in a city with effective mass transit!!

 

8be5e319-12fb-4de6-afb8-bff157787b43-metrostation1_606Unfortunately, they are doing some repair work to the Metro over the weekend, and the Yellow train never came. After waiting 20 minutes, and watching the digital board update with only green trains, I finally gave up and opened up the Uber app on my phone. So much for that reduced carbon footprint I was bragging about. In less than 2 minutes, Nathaneal pulled up in a new Toyota Corolla and we were on our way to pick up one more passenger to carpool to the airport.

 

As the car took off like a wizard on a broomstick, I noticed the eerie, twinkling sounds that were all too familiar. I was back inside Hogwarts Castle, winding my way through the incredible creation at Universal Studios, pushing Kurtis’ wheelchair through hairpin turns and scanning each new room for hidden treasures. As it turns out, Nathaneal loves classical music, including the compositions of John Williams, especially while driving “to keep from getting angry.” Our driver chatted away and I noticed that his eloquently spoken English was delicately laced with a lovely accent.

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Our new friend moved to America nine years ago from Cameroon. His mom calls him “her American boy,” and always vowed that she would find a way to send him to school in America. He loves it here, although there are some cultural differences that he still doesn’t get. Nathanael explained, “In Cameroon, when I say you’re my friend, it means I will be for you in thick and thin. And if I am bored, I just go over and knock on my friend’s door, but if they are not here, I just go on to another friend’s house to see if they are home. But here,” he shook his head, “after I do that 2 or 3 times, my friends tells me they don’t like this, that I need to text them first, but I don’t understand.”

 

We talked a bit about how it’s different being an adult instead of a kid, as Bethany recalled doing the same thing growing up. She also supposed that technology has changed things, because it’s just so easy now to give someone a warning so they can clean up or get dressed. But, the more I thought about it, Nathanael was right.

 

In my neighborhood, Fountain Square, I finally have the tree-lined sidewalk filled with kids riding bikes in packs, just like I’d always imagined as a child. I know my neighbors. And, although I do have their phone numbers, which I use  most of the time if I want to share something, sometimes it is just so much nicer to walk two blocks down and knock on a friend’s front door. Sure, they might still be in their pajamas, or they might not be home. But there is something so lovely about interjecting an unexpected smile into someone’s day. Instead of wondering, “Is that the Jehovah’s Witnesses AGAIN???” a knock on the door starts to make me wonder, “Oh, who could that be?”

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When I got home, I wanted to look up more information about Cameroon, to educate myself on the place Nathanael called home. Sadly, the first things that pop up are tragic. Today, four suicide bombers led an attack (three of them female) and killed four innocent people, wounding dozens of others nearby. It was claimed by the terrorist group Boko Haram. The people who died were not terrorists. It could have been Nathanael’s mother who was injured. These victims are just like me. Sure, their culture has differences. That’s what I love to learn about. That’s why I travel.

map-of-cameroon

It’s hard for me not to make comparisons between this Cameroon attack and the Paris attack. My Facebook feed this past week has been filled with far too much anti-Syrian hate. People claiming that they should “go to a country with a more similar culture” (read: religion). But refugees don’t get that choice. When your daughter runs home from school, terrified of being abducted or murdered on the way home, and your family members have lost their home in a bombing, and the dinner table is empty because your government has collapsed, all you can muster is the courage to say goodbye to the only place you’ve ever known, in the hope of finding a safe place to lay your head at night. A place where your child can sleep without night terrors.

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So, Governor Pence, Governor Snyder, is Cameroon next? What about Beirut? What about Iran? Or North Carolina??? Who else are you going to arbitrarily ban from seeking safety in your state? These refugee families don’t get to pick where they land. The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees) does. The system takes 18-24 months to permanently relocate a family, and the UNHCR is the one who looks at all countries’ capacity to help, and distributes the refugees across the globe. Why don’t we “make other Islamic countries take them,” as some have ignorantly asked? Well, you can’t ‘make’ a country offer help. But we can do the right thing. We are a country of immigrants. We landed on this soil without a place to call home, and WE accepted food and aid from the Wampanoag tribe in 1621.

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And, by the way, those Paris attackers? They were Belgians. Yes, born in Brussels. So, if you want to ban entire groups of people based on extremist activity, you’ll have to also ban people traveling from Europe. And Africa. And Asia. And South America. And, really, the North Pole, too, because Santa is really just an expert and B & E, the sneaky bastard. Hell, let’s just dig a giant tunnel underneath Mount Rushmore and we can all pile in, seal up the opening, and be safe from all those crazy freaks out there! Or, you could quit being so paranoid and go get to know your neighbors. Invite them in for a cup of tea. Quit being such an asshole, ‘cause you’re giving Americans like me a bad name.o-BORN-THIS-WAY-CAMEROON-LGBT-UNDERGROUND-facebook

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