The taxi is in traffic, and I’m going to be late. Yaya told me to come to him with my paper at 7:30, and it’s now 7:25. Not that I actually think he expects me to be on time, but as this will be our last meeting before I hand over my research paper, I’d sort of wanted to be punctual. As close to professional as possible. Plus, he’s really busy with his teaching, not eating, and choreographing dances for the first lady. I don’t want to hold him up.
We aren’t even halfway, though. We’ve passed the Star Building, gone through Tsinga and Mokolo, and are only just coming up to Chateau, where things are especially jammed. I wonder if it would make any sense to line the roads here. Maybe they are lined, but I just can’t tell, because no one cares about traffic laws. All the taxis are just pushing up on each other, yelling and bargaining to each other out their windows, swapping change and taking advantage of those who are distracted. The only minimal amount of space is around the cop in the road, whose shouts seem mainly to be ignored. Our row is maybe 5.5 cars across now, and my guy just yelled at a vendor to get out of the street, only to have another car move into the vacated space. This would’ve been easier if I was still living at Nkolbisson. From there, it’s a two-minute trip to Carrefour Meec at 100CFA, and then Chapelle Nsimeyoung without proposing. Instead, I’m back in the house of the spoiled screamers and the silent demon of a girl who follows me all day and kicks me in the face at night. It took 15 minutes yelling at taxis passing Carrefour Bastos, until this guy finally agreed to take me for 400CFA. Robbery.
Robbery? A guy on a motorcycle passes by the cop. His hand dips, the cop shouts, and then the moto is speeding away up the hill, with the cop trying to chase him on foot. Halfway up, the cop realizes there’s no way he’s going to outrun a moto. He halts a taxi that’s just gotten out of the mess of cars, and hops inside, presumably to continue the chase. The taxi doesn’t move.
It’s pretty easy to imagine what’s happening in the cab. There are passengers in the backseat, and everyone’s waving their hands around, jerking their heads. One passenger clearly is not having it. He didn’t sign up for a moto chase; he has places to go, see his briefcase? In a detached way, I think about how crazy this is, and how bold les Camerounais are. I would never imagine myself standing up to a cop. Not here, where I need them to respect my Visa and passport, and not in America, where I am realizing I will be increasingly terrified of them. If a cop got into my cab and started chasing somebody, in all likelihood I would be quiet and hope that the chase stopped somewhere close to my destination. I don’t question authority figures.
Not only authority figures, though. I seriously have problems standing up for my basic rights and conveniences. If you’ve paid to be on your way somewhere, and someone suddenly tries to change the direction, you should theoretically be able to righteously object. I know this. I would do it, too, on behalf of someone else. Not for myself, though. You would think that with a white mother and decent education, I would feel more entitlement, but I honestly spend so much time trying not to bother people. One time a cab stopped for me, and the woman in the back seat refused to squish over for me, motioning for me to squish into the front. The woman in the front motioned for me to squish into the back. This had been the first time I’d actually seen someone refuse to share seats, and it was two people! It made no sense to me. You always squish into cabs, no matter how big you are (and granted, these women were rather large). I was so confused, and took such a long time trying to figure out how to force my way into the cab without actually forcing anyone to do anything that the driver just left me in the street. It wasn’t a huge loss. Another guy was right behind him, with more room. But still.
This guy is still arguing. It’s amazing, mainly because I’m sure that this isn’t a big deal to him. I wonder if he even sees it as standing up for himself, which would make it into more of an Act. From what I can see, he seems to view the situation as an annoyance, or a minor bump in his daily path, and arguing is just a simple way of making it go away. What I’ve noticed is that Cameroonians make themselves important. It’s not just a Cameroonian thing, actually. My Congolese relatives do it, too. It used to make me uncomfortable, being around people putting on heavy airs. Berating waiters and sending back food; chastising people for dirty shoes; giving side-eyes to people walking and eating; and generally giving the impression that everyone else in the world who is not immediately with you is merely sharing your space, and lucky to do so. I’ve been with Yaya as he takes perfumes out of their plastic, sprays them on himself a Few times, and then tells the poor student selling them that he won’t buy them because they’re disgusting. Eventually, I came to see this behavior as socially acceptable assertiveness and annoyance with people who haven’t yet begun to properly assert themselves. It’s like the Look Good, Feel Good, Do Good mantra come to life, but with the idea of power. Not a question of confidence, but an assuredness. I should try it. I will try it.
The guy has finally decided that he’d rather get out of the cab than be involved in the chase. The driver wants to be paid, so all of traffic waits while the guy takes out his wallet, hands over the bills, and insists on making sure he’s been given the correct change. He leaves, and the taxi finally pulls away, but the moto is long gone. Sucks to be that cop.
My cab driver wants to know what happened.
“Il a volé,” I tell him. “Le moto. Tu n’as pas vu?” He hadn’t.
“Ah bon?” he says, and laughs. “Mon pays!”
Then he asks for my number. I correct my posture, deciding to begin practicing my own assertiveness, and Look at him.