Monday, January 12, 2009

“What time is it?” Paul’s voice reaches me through my still groggy state, and I grope around for the clock I set by the bed last night.
“11:45 – what?! No, that can’t be right! Do we have another clock?” It is indeed 11:45, and we are expecting a friend to pick us up at noon. We are still hunting for clothes and shoes when we hear him at the door. When we first met Francis, he was a university student who taught Lexi and Karen in “children’s church” at Etoug Ebe Baptisit Church. Now he is married with two children and working in IT for our mission. His wife Marvel has prepared a delicious meal for us of blackened fish, plaintains, yams, ndole, and fresh fruit salad. As often in Cameroonian homes, we eat in the living room, around the low coffee table, instead of at the table where the food has been laid out. They are gracious and entertaining hosts. The children are extremely well-behaved, as we have come to expect from Cameroonian children, although 3 yr. old Karys puts up a little fuss when we go. (Not because we are leaving, but because Francis and Marvel are leaving with us.)
Francis amazes us with his mastery of avoiding main roads and swerving around potholes and other vehicles. He drive us to Mahima, a downtown store that has a little of everything. Here I experience my first culture shock. During my last visit here, I stayed with a friend and didn’t have to cook for myself or Paul. Now I find myself struggling to remember what I used to cook and what ingredients to buy. Everything seems expensive, and I wish that I had asked to go to the outdoor market instead. I buy produce (beets, cauliflower, carrots, cabbage, onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and lettuce), sterilized milk (for our cereal) and powdered milk (for making yougurt), yogurt for starter, oatmeal, couscous, lentils, chick peas, oil, vinegar, tomato paste, cheese, tuna and spices (curry and herbes de provence, which is a mix of Mediterranean herbs that is common in French cooking.) Outside the store, we buy a whisky bottle that is full of roasted peanuts – the typical way to buy this abundant snack food.
Later in the afternoon, while we continue our unpacking, Vreni drops by. She is a Swiss who has worked here for over thirty years. We drink cold water and reminisce about other families who have lived in this apartment before us. When she leaves, we go with her in order to walk through our former neighborhood. Many changes. Several of the little stores that used to sell tomato paste, eggs, bread and beer are gone, while new ones have opened. We don’t see anyone that we know. Cameroonians tend to live outside of their homes as much as inside them. We see women cooking over little wood fires, girls braiding each other’s hair, men sitting on benches drinking beer. We don’t see anyone that we know. When we walk back at 6 pm, it is already dark enough that we wish we had brought a flashlight. (We are only 4 degrees above the Equator, so the sun rises and sets at approximately the same time year round.) The road is unpaved and quite rough, so we walk slowly back.
When we walk in our kitchen door, we are startled by a small cluster of cockroaches that goes scurrying for cover. We will have to look for traps in town. And Paul will have to empty them, because even after all of those years in Cameroon, I don’t handle cockroaches well. This reminds me: Alexis’s first complete sentence, uttered in French and accompanied by the waving of a flyswatter, was “Baby hit cockroach!” That was cute; finding her one day with a half-eaten cockroach in her hand was not.

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