Time for an excerpt: Another marriage proposal

It’s been a while since I posted an excerpt from my book. And I’ve written so much during the last few months! So today I want to share something short that will make you smile.

This piece is from the middle section of my book, which takes place in Cameroon. (It’s adapted from my travel blog.)

* * *

On one of my final days in the Yaoundé, I visited the patisserie down the road from the guesthouse, a bakery that sold homemade ice cream, a delicacy I’d found only in Africa’s major cities. Set up like a modern bakery in France, it offered freshly baked bread, sugary cake bites and glazed fruit tarts, all displayed deliciously under clear plastic cases, protecting the treats from the drool of customers. While I mused over the selection of ice cream flavors, similar to those I’d choose from at home, the man behind the counter hit on me like he did every day when I arrived for a scoop.

“Ma cherie,” he purred, using the same pet name, “my dear,” that at least a dozen other African men had tried on me. “You know I want to marry you.”

I did know. He had told me yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that, even though he was at least twice my age. (Let’s pretend I wasn’t getting ice cream every time I went into the store.)

“Bonjour. How are you today?” I responded politely, pretending to give him my attention while I debated whether to go with chocolate or coffee-flavored ice cream.

He ignored my greeting, pressing on with more important issues. “Do you have any friends here?” he asked, leaning over the counter toward me, his beer belly showing through his apron. “I want to marry a white woman.”

Way to make a girl feel special, I thought. Me or my white friends, it doesn’t matter.

I browsed through my mental library of witty replies. Ignoring him – an effective tactic when it came to dealing with men who hissed at me from the side of the road – wouldn’t work, since he stood between me and my ice cream. I’d already tried several of my go-to retorts with this guy during previous visits, including turning polygamy on its head and asking, “Would you like to become my second husband? Because I’ve already married one man.” The day before, as I ordered a cone topped with chocolate chip, I had even described the husband who awaited me in the States, a fictional character I’d talked about so much during the last four months that I half expected the dark-haired hottie to pick me up at the airport when I arrived home.

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An excerpt: Cameroonian patience

Last Monday, I kicked your butt into gear. This week, a gentler form of inspiration, an excerpt from my book.

Wanna learn about my travel memoir first? Check out this post.

* * *

Packages from home take on new meaning in Africa. Peanut butter? Like gold. A favorite deodorant? More valuable than cash. And batteries for my digital camera that actually worked — they elicited a fist pump into the air.

So when I returned to Dschang, Cameroon, after a week in the village, I beelined to the post office. My sister had mailed me a parcel weeks before, and I desperately hoped it would arrive before I left the region.

The post office’s small main room was shoulder-to-shoulder crowded and loud, with mostly men yelling toward what appeared to be the front of the “line.” What was this chaos? Were they picking up government paychecks? I was about to tap on a man’s shoulder and ask when a post employee recognized me – not many whites frequented the Dschang post office. He gestured to follow him behind the counter, into the package room, where I had collected a parcel from my mom the previous week.

Bonjour,” I greeted the woman behind the desk as I took a seat in one of her office chairs. “Do you have a package for me?”

“I think I remember seeing one here for you,” she said, getting up from her seat to shift through boxes and padded envelopes that crowded shelves, waiting to be claimed.

“Really?” I pulled my passport out of my bag, knowing she would need to see it to confirm that I was the intended recipient.

“Yes, it’s here,” she confirmed, reaching behind a few boxes. “But, oh, I remember this package now.” She pulled the thick envelope out from behind the others. “I’m sorry to tell you there’s a problem. It arrived in poor condition.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” I said quickly, assuming the mail had been dropped in a puddle or smashed by the weight of other boxes. After all, it had crossed an ocean to reach me. “I’ll take it regardless of its condition.”

Now on her desk, the package clearly had ripped open sometime during its voyage, but the tears were at least partly covered with clear plastic tape. I held out my passport, eager to collect my parcel and leave so I could delve into my gift, but the employee wasn’t as ready as I was.

“You can see this package arrived here weighing one-and-a-half kilograms,” she said, pointing to scrawl on the envelope that apparently was official. Then she moved her pointer finger to a different part of the parcel. “But it left America weighing three kilograms.”

What was she getting at? My package had been so badly damaged that it lost half its weight? How could that happen? I looked at the woman, puzzled.

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An excerpt: Special delivery

What’s that I hear? You want to read an excerpt from my book?

Sigh. You know I can never tell you no.

This scene takes place in Madagascar, during the third and final section of my book. I picked it partly because it doesn’t require much context; even though you haven’t read the book until this point, you should be able to understand what’s going on here.

(Loyal readers of my travel blog will recognize it as an adapted version of a post. It feels pretty great to begin writing a scene and realize I already have a skeleton version to work with.)

Remember, you’re lucky enough to experience this in rough-draft form. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting there.

* * *

The hotel lobby was quiet, empty at this early hour except for two women chatting at the bar. I dropped my backpack on the floor and leaned against the wall, tired from a poor night’s sleep. The slow-moving ceiling fan in my room had done little to ease the heat.

“Good morning,” the woman behind the bar greeted me as she flipped through the hotel’s guestbook. “Do you need something?”

“No, thanks,” I responded, my eyes half closed. “I’m waiting for someone.”

The South African couple I had met the night before would be here any minute. Since the birdwatchers were on my flight out of Diego, we had planned to share a taxi to the airport.

“You’re leaving?” the employee asked, gesturing toward my bag. Her friend, sitting on the other side of the bar, swiveled her high stool so she was facing me.

“Yes,” I answered, reaching into my pack to make sure my passport was easily accessible. “I’m headed to the airport. I have a flight.”

“You’re going to Sambava?”

I stood up a little straighter, slightly suspicious. How did she know? In a few hours I would take the short flight to Sambava, a small city on the northeastern tip of the island, but I could have been going anywhere in Madagascar or even home to the States. How had she guessed correctly?

“Yes, uh, Sambava,” I replied, thinking maybe she would suggest a hotel or put me in touch with someone who lived there. But she and her friend had something else in mind.

“Will you take this with you?” asked the woman on the stool, who wore jeans and a casual brown short-sleeved shirt. She held up a plastic shopping bag full of what looked like fabric.

The request caught me off guard. “Pardon? What do you mean?”

“This bag,” she clarified, patting the flimsy sack. “Will you take it with you?”

“You want me to take the bag to Sambava?” I asked apprehensively, staying in my spot against the wall.

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