Saturday, January 31, 2009

This morning our friend Joseph stopped by to greet us. Joseph was the first friend that we made in Yaoundé, and he has been a great source of cultural enlightenment. He had only been here for a few minutes when he picked up where we had left off a few years ago on a recurring discussion. He said, “Madame (There is no way on earth that I could ever get him to call me Nanci), your own children, who you raised just like you did, when they have their own children, would you not like to take those children so that you could raise them again?” I explained to him for maybe the fourth time that it doesn’t work that way in our culture; that parents are expected to raise their own children. They would give them to the grandparents only if they were unable to raise them well themselves. He can’t get his mind around it. “But Madame! You raised them fine. Don’t you want to just look and see a child there again?” I tell him that I hope that I raised my children well enough that they will also raise their children well, and that I will enjoy visiting any grandchildren that I might have one day. Finally he exclaims, “But then you and Uncle Paul will be just two, all alone like that?” Before he leaves, he turns one more time and says, “But Madame…if Alexi or Kari gave you their child for just two, three years…You would care for him, send him to school, would you not like that?” Paul ends the discussion by saying with a smile, “Yes, we would like that.”

Friday, January 30, 2009

Taxis

In Cameroon, every second or third vehicle that you see is a taxi. They are easy to identify, because they are all bright yellow. (We once had a yellow Jeep for a year. It became very tiresome, having people try to flag us down, then either getting angry because we didn’t stop or watching us pass in astonishment, having never before seen a White taxi driver.) Taxi fares are very cheap. We can go several miles, from the SIL center to downtown Yaoundé, for about 40 cents. That isn’t the only difference from American taxis. Here we don’t call for a cab. Rather, we stand by the side of the road and wait for one to pass that has room for us . The notion of having room for us is also different. It simply means that it’s still possible to squeeze us in. It may mean taking a child on my lap, sitting half sideways, or sharing the front passenger seat with a stranger. The taxi doesn't take us to our destination. Rather, we get off at the point on the taxi’s route that is nearest to our destination and walk from there. It is possible to hire a taxi to take us to a specific place, without picking up other passengers. However, this costs about ten times as much. The $4.00 seems decadent here, and something we would rarely consider doing.

Buses

Yesterday we took our friend Vince to the bus station so that he could travel to Bamenda. Here is how the buses work: The first bus of the day leaves at 6:00 am. Enough people are there to fill that bus and have some leftover. From then on, buses leave whenever there are enough people to fill one. Vince hit it just right. We arrived at the station around 9:30. By the time he stood in line for his ticket and made sure that his luggage was loaded, the bus was revving its engine to go. He wasn’t so lucky from there on out. First the bus was stopped for a police check. Everyone on the bus had to produce papers (a national identity card, residence permit or passport with a current visa), and those who couldn’t were escorted off of the bus and to the police station. Then the bus driver decided to make some money on the side. When they would arrive in a town, he would stop to pick up people who were by the side of the road, waiting for taxis. He would drive them down the road a bit, then let them off near their destination. All of the stopping and starting made the other passengers very angry, and they shouted at the driver until he stopped his taxi service. Vince phoned to tell us that he had arrived around 6:30 pm, making the roughly 250 mile trip in about nine hours.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Top Five Things I’ve Seen Carried on Someone’s Head:

5. Three lidded buckets, stacked one on top of the other to a total height of about 4’.
4. A stuffed armchair
3. A 4’ x 4’ dresser
2. Six large potted palms on a board
1. A large tree

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I don’t know which impresses me more: how many people can fit into a van, how much cargo can be carried on top of a car or in a pick-up, or how much can be carried on one’s head.

Paul is back on his feet. Yesterday we visited the construction site of the new mission high school, where we came across several old friends, working on the crew. We discipled Johannes at the weekly Bible study we held in our home. At the time, he was a security guard. Now he is the crew foreman, and the project head speaks highly of him. Almost daily the Lord allows us to see some bit of fruit from the years that we spent here, and we are humbled by it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

When we first arrived here, we spent two months living in a Cameroonian village home, learning Ewondo (the local language) and the culture. One day someone told me that the head of the school had fallen from his palm tree and died. I said in French, “That’s too bad” and then asked how one said that in Ewondo. The response that I got seemed awfully long, but I wrote it down phonetically and practiced it every time that it seemed appropriate to express sympathy. It was a few weeks before I learned enough Ewondo to realize that I was saying almost daily not, “That’s too bad”, but rather, “The schoolmaster died.”
Paul has discovered that walking helps his stomach pain, so after dinner (He’s only eating about a third as much as normal), we went for a walk. We headed down the hill, past the brewery that is Cameroon’s largest industry. (When the wind’s are right, the smell of hops fills our offices.) We passed a bus stop that was full of people, sitting on the bench and on the ground, laughing and chatting boisterously. We were surprised, wondering if buses run in the evenings. On the return, we realized that someone was selling palm wine there – a sort of informal bar. We once read that Cameroon has the highest per capita alcohol consumption in the world. We don’t doubt it, but we wonder how they can calculate such a thing. Although beer sales are very high, most drinking occurs in the villages, where many men have their own palm trees. They climb the tree, tap the liquid and let it ferment. A tree gives a good-sized bottle daily.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Paul is no longer vomiting, but he still has a fever. He fears that the violent vomiting has given him a hiatal hernia, because he has severe acid reflux whenever he eats anything at all. He has eaten very little since Saturday night.
I have decided among the various possibilities and chosen someone to help in the house. Her name is Charlotte, and she works with little two-month old Jesse either on her back or sleeping on a mattress on the floor of our guest room. Charlotte was fired for stealing from one of her previous places of employment. That served as a wake-up call. She got serious about her faith, and the Lord has made some tremendous changes (according to friends who have known her for a long time) in her life and even her personality. When we prayed together on her first day here, I was touched to hear her thank God for giving her a second chance. I told the guard that I had chosen someone other than his “sister”. He said, “Madame, it’s no problem. I like the way you Americans are. You pick the person that you think is best for the job, and not the one that pays you something or knows someone you know. It’s really a good way to choose people.”

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Paul is sick. He has spent the day – his birthday, yet! - alternately vomiting, sleeping and doubling over with stomach cramps. I have spent it searching out the “pharmacy de garde” (The pharmacies cooperate to make sure that some are open on Sundays), reading the relevant chapters of Where There Is No Doctor, phoning around to find some antacids and making him a birthday dinner of – what else? – chicken soup.

It Takes a Village

Paul and I went to Coneilia’s today (Her own house – not the hostel where she works.) It’s rather difficult to get there, so she sent her friend to get us in his taxi. It was a typical taxi: a 15 year old Toyota Carina that, well…it’s still drivable, anyway. The road to her house is so bad that were it in the US, even people with SUV’s would think twice about going down it. (It was too bumpy even for garter stitch.) The road doesn't go all the way to her house, so at the end of it the driver told us to walk on, while he stayed back to roll up the windows. He then got out a screwdriver and proceeded to do so for the next five minutes or more. The house is hard to describe, so I won’t try until I have gone back for photos. (Halfway there I realized that I had forgotten my camera.) The land around it is taken up with her “farm”: seemingly random plantings of manioc, sugar cane, pineapples, papaya trees, chili peppers, red beans, cocoa, cocoa yams and plantains. She is particularly proud of the plantains that Ben and Lexi helped her plant when they visited two years ago. Chickens run freely around and in the house. While we eat, her thirteen year old nephew tries to fix the television. He has lived with her for the past eleven years. His parents are living, but they are poor and have other children, so they sent Dieudonné(“God-given”) and Blessing to Coneilia, who has no children of her own. They call her Mother, and in every practical sense of the word, that is what she is. This arrangement isn’t unusual, although I think it is even more common for children to be “given” to a grandparent. Dieudonne and Blessing see their birth parents once every year or two.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Excuse Me, Did You Say “Goat”?

Last night on BBC I heard about something that just happened in neighboring Nigeria. Two thieves were caught in the act of robbing a business. One managed to run away, but the other was caught by bystanders. However, according to what they told the police, the thief turned himself into a goat. The bystanders took the goat to the police, who are holding it in custody.

Some Illogic Is Universal

I was sitting at CABTAL with two friends (I’ll call them Helen and Sophie), waiting for lunch. Sophie watched me for a minute and uttered those words so annoying to knitters, “I wish that I had time to do that.” Rather than point out the illogic directly, I told a story: “One time I was waiting for a doctor. In America, they put TV’s in the waiting room so that you don’t notice how long you have to wait. I was knitting, and another woman was watching a stupid game show. She kept looking over at me. Finally she gave a big sigh and said, ‘It must be nice to have time to do that.’” Helen got it first. She laughed and said, “She’s right, Sophie. You could be knitting right now! You have the time; you just need to carry your knitting with you. “Sophie laughed, too, and held out her hand for me to shake.

Friday, January 23, 2009

One Sad Tale Among Many

Tonight our friend M. came to visit us. Paul last saw him maybe six years ago, when he brought his fiancé to the hangar. M. had been married before. His first wife had died, leaving him with an infant daughter. To add to the tragedy, her family kidnapped the baby, and our friend had to go through a fair bit to get her back. Then he discovered that she had HIV. He wanted to remarry so that he would have someone to care for the child while he worked. But when Paul met the woman of his choice, he counseled M. against the marriage. It didn’t seem to Paul that she was interested in raising another woman’s baby, let alone one with HIV. M. didn’t listen, married the woman, and told us tonight that Paul had been right. His wife doesn’t want anything to do with his daughter, so the girl (now 10) lives with some people from M’s church. Recently he decided that it was time to have her meds reevaluated, so he went to an HIV clinic to have her tested. But when he went to pick up the results, they demanded about $200 for them. (They should have been free.) M. is basically a subsistence farmer who has nowhere near that kind of money. Implicit in his telling us this was a request for help, but Paul and I don’t knowingly participate in corruption. We sat with him for quite awhile, listening to further tales of financial burdens. Finally Paul said, “You need to go bother those people at the clinic.” M. seemed puzzled. “You need to go back, over and over. Tell them that you don’t have that kind of money, that she is just a child, that they have the results and they gain nothing by not giving them to you. Just keep going until they give them to you.” Paul is very wise when it comes to helping Cameroonians. We prayed for M. before he left. We would like to give him some money to help with his farming needs, but we suspect that he would take it straight to the clinic.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Presidents

In Cameroon, travel between the towns and the rural areas is done mainly by bush taxi: nine to twelve passenger vans (which carry up to twice those numbers here). Most bush taxis are painted in bright colors and have a religious or otherwise meaningful slogan, like “The Truth is Mighty.” Yesterday I saw the first of what I am guessing will be many that read simply, “Obama.” In Africa, when a person goes off to the city and makes it big, he or she will usually stay connected to the home village. Many water projects, schools, clinics, improved roads, etc., have come about in rural areas because of that ethnic group’s “elites” – the people who have succeeded financially. It seems that most of Africa views Obama as one of its elites. On inauguration day, I listened to a radio broadcast in which one person after another spoke of the changes that Obama will bring to them: better roads, scholarships, health clinics, etc. (Finally someone came on who said, “All of these people are forgetting that Obama is the President of THE UNITED STATES.”) At the same time, Bush is respected and even revered. A little-known fact of his presidency is that he gave more to Africa for HIV/AIDS research and prevention than any president since the disease was discovered.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I have realized that the reason I’m feeling so relaxed is that I have hardly worked since arriving. I enjoy my work, but it feels like it belongs to my other world. I spend the morning chipping away at the backlog of emails, but it feels a bit forced, and I am glad when it’s time to walk to CABTAL for lunch. (It’s ndole day again. This time I give Marie, the cook, about $3.00 to buy the leftovers to take home.) On the way back, I stop at the pharmacy to stock up on a few things. Armed robbery is a problem, so the pharmacy staff and inventory are behind bars. (Our apartment has bars on its windows, too.) No prescriptions are needed. If you know how to pronounce it in French, you can buy it. Between the pharmacy and home, I hear a man calling out "Madame! Madame" This is pretty normal, and it's best to ignore it, but he is so insistent that I turn just as he runs up to me. He points to a vehicle across the road and says in broken French, "The car - there. Come." I smile and say no thank you. He says, quite insistently, "No, I help you. Come. No problem." I again say no thank you and tell him that I walk for my health. At this he grabs my arm, hard, and says almost angrily, "You come. Where you live? Where you live?" People passing by are turning to stare. I wrench my arm away and continue on my way, while he continues to shout, "Where do you live? Where do you live?"

Tuesday, January 20, 2009



From there, I walk back a half mile to CABTAL (Cameroonian Association for Bible Translation and Literacy), which is a close partner mission to our own. One of my American friends has invited Paul and me to have lunch with her there. Another friend, this one Cameroonian, cooks food and brings it to CABTAL to sell at noon every day. (She serves it in an outdoor classroom that is used for training literary workers.) Today is fish and plantains day. When we eat fish here, we don't eat chunks of fish - we eat a fish. Paul has even learned to eat the heads, but I figure there are a lot of other things I can learn before I get around to that one. Paul arrives late, so I get in some knitting time while waiting for him to finish. (Knitters, I'm nearly done with the back of Elektra.)
As I'm walking home to prepare dinner for guests (missionary friends who have just returned from furlough in the US and who are leaving in the morning to go back to their village in the far north of the country), I pass a photocopy shop (of sorts) and decide to stop and chat. I ask him how business is, and he tells me that it isn't good: his machine is broken. I commiserate. When I ask if I may take a picture, he hesitates, then says that it's okay as long as he isn't in it. It doesn't occur to me until I arrive home to wonder why he sits in the shop all day with a broken machine.





Food

I go to visit Coneilia while she is at work, and find her (as always) in the kitchen, surrounded by cookies and breads. I tell her that I rarely eat white flour or sugar (dark chocolate and cheesecake exempt, of course) any more, and try to explain about cancer feeding off of high blood sugar. She clearly doesn't like to hear me talk about cancer, so instead I tease her about how she likes to make everything except tortillas. She tells me that her uncle died recently. I ask her if it was her father's brother or her mother's brother. She thinks for a minute, then says it was her father's cousin. When I leave, she gives me a package of Snickerdoodles for Paul.




Timing

I am falling back into the timing of life in Yaounde. Here are some examples:
- Laundry is best done and hung up before noon, so that it can be fully dry before evening dew. When it is wet, little flies lay eggs on it. If you wear the damp laundry, the eggs hatch and get under your skin, and you end up with a mango worm (aka screw worm) in your body. When Karen was small, we once pulled one the size of my little finger out of her thigh.
- A lot of stores and offices close at noon for lunch and naptime. Many open again by 2:00; some stay closed until 4:00.
- If we are around the one of the mission centers we try to not make noise from 12-2, because many people are resting ("la sieste").
- At three degrees from the Equator, Yaounde has very direct sun. It’s best not to be out for long from 10-2.
- Africans tend to be more event-oriented than they are time-oriented. If you invite someone to your house for dinner at 7:00, you need to be prepared for them to show up anytime between 7:00 and 9:00 or so. To them, what is important is that you invited them, they come and you eat together. The exact time isn’t important at all. What this means for us time-conscious Americans is a bit of a guessing game. For example, when visiting a church that starts at 10:00, we know that if we come at 10 we may have to sit around for 20 minutes before anyone else shows up and 30 before things get started. But if we show up too late (say, 10:45, although it varies from church to church), we may provoke an admonishment from the pulpit, reminding us that services start at 10:00.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Cameroon is linguistically diverse to a degree that is difficult for Westerners to grasp. Geographically, it is about the size of California, so to understand what it's like here, imagine a California in which every major town or city spoke a different language. Cameroon has nearly 300 distinct languages. Although French and English are the official languages and are used for much of commerce and education, few Cameroonians claim either as their mother-tongue. In the small church that we visited yesterday, the members of the congregation came from many different linguisitic/ethnic groups, some in the French speaking part of the country (where we live) and some in the English-speaking part in the Northwest. Thus the church is bilingual. Parts of the service were in French and translated into English, but occasionally there was a bit in one language or the other, without translation. Cameroonian English isn't pronounced just like American English, so amusing misunderstandings take place. For example, when I heard yesterday, "The Lord has many ships and cares for them all," it took me a minute to realize that he was talking about sheep. (As a knitter who also cares about sheep, I should have caught on right away.) I was reminded of a sermon I heard preached years ago. One of the differences between Cameroonian English and American English is that here they sometimes vocalize an s or soft c (making it sound like a z) when we wouldn't. So it seemed to me that the sermon in question was about world peas. For forty-five minutes, the speaker expounded on the topic: what the world needs more than anything else is peas; only God can truly give us peas; we should pray and work for peas. At first I kept from laughing just by biting my lip, but soon I was covering my mouth, and eventually I had to pinch my nose while covering my mouth. All hope was lost when he ended the sermon by raising both hands to the heavens and crying out, "Lord God, send us peas!"
The sermon at church yesterday brought out a huge difference between Western and African cultures. The general topic was the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation on Scripture, and fellowship. In the West, the first two are usually thought of as private practices. Although many Christians attend Bible studies or pray regularly with other believers, having a private devotional life is what we assume to be the key to spiritual growth. This entire sermon was about the need to meet with others for those two activities, and individual practice wasn’t even mentioned. I’m reminded of the reaction of Cameroonian friends when Paul used to go on overnight flights. They would sometimes offer to stay with me or send one of their children to do so. It seemed incomprehensible to them that I didn’t mind and even enjoyed having an occasional day or two alone. This is why, when I greet friends on the street, they will never stop with a simple, “How are you?” That is quickly followed by a second question, “And your family? Is everyone well?”

Greetings

I walk into the mission’s office at break time. First I go around the room, shaking hands with and saying hello to each of the seven people seated in the lobby. I sit down, turn to the person next to me and shake his hand again, holding it for a beat longer than during the initial greeting. I avoid eye contact. (It took me three years in the States to relearn eye contact with men, but it immediately feels natural to avoid it here. In a few small ways like this, I am more comfortable in Cameroonian culture than in my own.) I ask him how he is; he replies and asks me how I am. I reply, then ask how his family is; he replies and asks me how my family is. I reply that they are fine, then say, “So. The family – they are all fine?” He nods, says again that they are fine, and adds a detail or two. His younger son has succeeded in his exams. His daughter is learning how to sew. He then asks me again if my family is fine. I say yes, they are fine, and pull out some pictures of Karen’s wedding. “Karen is married? Wonderful!” He claps his hands together once, and we shake hands again, enthusiastically. Someone next to him says, “I am remembering when Karen was born and you brought her just here, to show her to us.” He laughs, and I laugh and shake his hand. The pictures go around the circle, with many remembrances and handshakes. When the photos have made the complete circle, I rise to go. Of course I shake hands with everyone before leaving.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Nanci's Internet Is Down Until (Maybe) Monday


When I walked into the fabric store and saw all of the colorful pagnes (lengths of cloth), I thought about Alexis and Karen and cried a little, missing them. They would have loved to have been there with me (until I started crying, at least.) I didn’t buy anything, because I still have at least twenty pagnes at home, having overdone it a little on previous trips.
We conclude the day at the market. I’m tired and don’t work very hard at getting a good price, which will cause me trouble the next time I go. While Paul carries the big bag full of papayas, tomatoes, lettuce, oranges, onions, carrots, lemons and melons, I count out the last of my change to a woman who sells me a pile of grapefruit. Another woman, selling nearby, calls out, “What, you aren’t going to buy even one little thing from me?” I tell her that I have spent all of my money, then joke that I haven’t even saved any to pay the porter. She glances at Paul, winks at me and says, “You can pay him when you get home.” The other woman laugh as we drive away.

Shopping in Yaounde


The new mayor of Yaounde has undertaken a clean-up program. Little green spaces have sprung up, and there is even a nice park in the middle of the downtown area. Many of the street vendors have been chased away and relocated in stalls. The little boys who used to clamor to “guard your car” (i.e. not puncture your tires) for a few francs have all disappeared. It made today’s shopping trip less of a hassle than we expected, but it also made it less interesting from a cultural standpoint.
In the grocery store, I was looking over a wall full of imported (mainly from China and France) household utensils and saw an odd looking one. I asked an employee what it was. He looked surprised and exclaimed, “Madame, I have no idea. You’re the one who should tell me what that is!” At the spice rack I bought little packets of coriander, thyme and oregano, while wishing that I had brought other spices with me from the States.
We ate lunch at a cafeteria where we have eaten in the past. Prices have gone way up. The meal (salad, curried fish, plantains and fresh pineapple) that cost us nearly $20.00 would have been half of that in the past. But it was very good.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Hangar Has All of the Essential Equipment.


It Always Takes Longer to Put Back Together

Paul is disappointed that they don't have the inspection done on the 206 yet. Today they lost some time by attending the funeral of a former commander of the air base where the hangar is. He and his son, a medical doctor, were killed in a car accident. The better roads here are more dangerous than the bad ones, because people drive so fast.

Euphrasia


The woman in the center of the photo is my friend Euphrasia (with two of her daughters and their children.) Her husband Tangko works with Paul in the hangar. He came to the States a few years ago for mechanic's training and lived with us for a few months. Euphrasia was one of the first people who taught me that knowledge and wisdom are vastly different. She has only a sixth grade education and has probably never had the occasion to read a book cover to cover, but her wisdom about the human heart astonishes me. She suffers a great deal with various physical ailments, including rheumatism. I asked her tonight if she drinks enough water (dehydration is a common cause of fatigue and illness here.) She said that she doesn't, because it makes the bottom of her feet too hot.

Walking to the Hangar


This photo and the next were taken along the path that we use to go to the hangar, which is on the outskirts of the city. I felt like a spy, trying to get the photos. Whenever I found myself alone on the path, I tried to quickly compose a shot and take it before anyone else came along to wonder why I was out there alone, taking pictures. Then I would walk along with the camera dangling in the folds of my skirt so that no one would notice it. Eventually (It was right after a policeman appeared on a hill in front of me) it got so nervewracking that I gave up.

Yogurt

This afternoon I had about five minutes before I had to be out the door (to go to a "Welcome Cookout" at the hangar), so I decided to make yogurt. If you eat yogurt and don't make it yourself, you should know that you can do so faster than it takes for the grocery clerk to check you out with it - or in my case, faster than I can find my keys to drive to the store. Here's how:
Combine two cups of very warm water (so your finger can stand it, but barely) with one cup of powdered milk. Add 2-4 tablespoons of plain yogurt and stir well. Pour into clean containers, put it in a warm place (like a kitchen counter in Cameroon) and leave it alone for a few hours. Then , from time to time, tip it very gently to see if it has set. When it has, refrigerate it. C'est tout! If you don't have a warm place, it will still work, but it will take a little longer. Make it at night and it should be set when you get up.

Harmatan

During dry season, which is from approximately December to mid March, fine dust blows down from the Sahara. At times it is so thick and visibility is so poor that Paul has to delay take-off until mid-morning, when the sun has had time to burn it off. It gets into everything, which is why we cover our computers and keep things in plastic bags. The problem is exacerbated by the poor air qualty. (The UV index today is 9 out of a possible 10. By way of contrast, the UV index in Charlotte today is less than 2.) The pollution is due to both vehicles without emission standards and the pervasiveness of burning as a way to get rid of garbage and clear fields. Sometimes after I've been walking, I find black guck in the corners of my eyes. And if I happen to blow my nose after spending a lot of time downtown, well, you get the idea. There were times during our years here when I toyed with the idea of bringing back a gas mask. (But see previous post about trying to avoid looking suspicious.)

Almost Done


You can't see me, but I am sitting right here in my home office, typing this post. Behind me there is nearly an entire wall of shelves, which is ironic because we have little to put on them here, but a month ago Paul was figuring out how to put extra shelves in our house in Waxhaw. My Internet access is limited to this room by a very short cable. (We hope to get a longer one this weekend, or maybe even a router.) The funny thing sticking up behind my closed computer is Paul's open one (covered with a dish towel.) One of his hinges broke, and he may have to wait weeks for the part. Paul offered to move things around so that I'd face the window, and our patch of yellow-green lawn, but it's cooler to leave the curtains drawn, anyway. The door angles weren't very good for pictures of the bedroom or bathroom, but we do have both.

Kitchen

You can't see the stove and fridge, which are to the right. The three little pillars on the far side of the sink are the water filter. It somehow looks bigger in this photo than it really is.

Dining Room and Library


You can also see a bit of the kitchen. This room is really just the other end of the main living space - one big room. The two doors lead to a pantry and the bathroom. Note the random floor tiles. The tile place must have run out of blue. The funny thing is that I hadn't noticed them myself until I saw this photo and tried to think of what to write about.
Note also our rotary phone. I remember the days when the entire mission had only one phone. Now we have these inner-office phones in our apartments, as well as personal cell phones. (It costs money to make a call but not to receive one, so it's pretty normal for people to call and hang up before you answer, obliging you to call them back.)

Main Living Area

Otherwise known as the knitting and reading room. I love how open and light it is. (Knitters, note the two baskets. Nearly my entire three-month stash lies therein, protected from the dust by plastic bags. Non-knitters, I haven't had THAT kind of stash since the seventies. The baskets contain yarn.)

Is There An Easier Way?


Surely there is a way to upload more than one photo at a time? Anyway, here is our back door. I know that it looks more like the front than the front does, but because people arrive at the other door first, no one uses this one. Knowing that everyone who enters the house will walk through my kitchen is good for me.

The Third One Gets Closer to Home

Our front door. Paul was happy to see living plants in the little planter (and two others like it.) I am trying to remember to water them.

Taken from the guard booth, here are the general administrative offices of our mission. We have another center where most of our linguistic activities are headquartered and where we give classes to Cameroonian linguists, literacy workers and translators. Both of the centers have some guest apartments. Ours is at the bootom of the hill, hidden behind the building.


This is the view from the upstairs offices of the center where we live. If you look at the center of the photo, you will see a little red booth, which is the guard station.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Camera Shy

Now that I've got the camera problem solved, I can start working on the next difficulty related to posting pictures, which is that it's very hard to get them. Unlike anywhere else that I have been in the world, Cameroon is not friendly to casual photography. Some people say that it's because people are superstitious and think that if you have their image you can somehow harm them. I think the more likely explanation is that they feel exploited when some stranger takes their picture. They think that you are getting something from them while giving nothing in exhange. (This is supported by the very common response when you ask permission to take someone's picture. He or she will usually do one of these: 1. refuse 2. ask for money 3. agree, but only if you promise to get them a copy of the photo.) It is extremely unwise to, for example, pull out a camera in the market. Chances are good that it will get ugly. One time Paul took a picture of a "bush taxi" (a van that hauls people in and out of town) being piled high with colorful baggage, banana stalks, etc. A plainclothes policeman happened to be passing by. He angrily confiscated the camera, and Paul spent the rest of the afternoon at the police station, trying to get it back. (He did, but only after agreeing to expose the more recent photos, to ensure that none that might include the policeman were still on his film.)

My Famous Pastor Derwin

During the lunch break at the workshop today, some of the board members were huddled around a computer, laughing. I went over to see what was funny. To my delight, I saw my very own Pastor Derwin! (If you haven't seen The Evangelism Linebacker, you should.) I started jumping up and down, saying, "That's my pastor! That's Pastor Derwin! Right there - that's him, the linebacker guy! He's one of my pastors!" The school director told me that she used that video clip at the school's retreat last year. We all commented on what a small world it is, and enjoyed the rest of the video.

How Many Bananas Can You Get for Ten Cents?


Today I gave a workshop for the board of Rain Forest International School. It seemed to go well and they were appreciative. On the way home, I stopped to buy bananas. I told the woman that I wanted 50 francs worth (about ten cents.) She held out two bananas. I knew that if I weren't White, she would have offered three. The American in me feels cheated and wants to insist on three. My Cameroonian experience (or maybe it was the Lord?) reminds me that I can easily afford to pay five cents per banana and that it is better to be generous than not. As I put my two bananas into my backpack, I'm glad that the right side won.

Digital Blessing

Our friend Vreni told us about a young man who sells cameras at a good price. I phoned him, he came to see us, and I now have almost the same camera that I lost in Morocco. The young man, Sylvain, lost his father at an early age, so some missionaries that we know helped him get through school. Now the son of those missionaries (who is one of my former students) has helped him to establish this business. He is a Christian, so he has special rates for missionaries. We were very happy to help him in his business, and I was delighted to get this camera. Here is the part where it feels like God was smiling: after I lost the camera, I said to Paul, “You know what’s silly? I feel just as sad about that cute little case that I bought for it as I do about the camera.” We could hardly believe it when Sylvain pulled out the camera, in an identical case. Paul asked him if it had come with the camera, but of course it hadn’t (nor had mine.) Given that we are in Cameroon, thousands of miles away from the nearest store that sells cases like this, we feel very blessed by the whole thing.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Convenience Shopping

Here is a partial list of the things that I saw for sale by the side of the road, on my last walk: peanuts in whisky bottles, little packets of sugared peanuts, assorted hardward, hard boiled eggs (sitting in the sun alongside a jar of hot pepper sauce and one of mayonnaise), foam mattresses, leather flip flops, plastic flip flops (with colorful feathers attached), huge slabs of spicy beef jerky, batteries, candy, cigarettes, phone calls (people with cell phones set up a table under an umbrella, and for about 20 cents you can make a call on their phone), phone cards, dried fish, papaya, tomatoes, umbrellas (used more for sun than for rain: when it rains, it's often too hard for an umbrella to be of use), cups of water, garlic, manioc, pastries, matches, bananas and more bananas, palm oil (bring your own container), palm wine (by the cup).

I could go on and on. I had taken a little notebook with me to jot down things as I saw them, but when I passed a policeman, I put it away. It's better for foreigners to avoid looking suspicious.

Two Sad Images

The other day I saw a woman sitting in the distance by the side of the road. She had a wide assortment of plastic bags tied around nearly every part of her body. That was her only clothing. Then I saw something even more heartrending: a man dressed similarly, but in cloth rags rather than plastic bags. At first I assumed that he was mentally ill, because he kept lifting up the rags, exposing himself. Then I saw that he had a flask of water in his hand and was doing his best to bathe without completely undressing. I saw a bundle nearby and realized that he was homeless and keeping clean as best he could.

Closing up and Going out

When we first came to Cameroon in 1981, security wasn’t much of an issue. Over the years, however, violent crime became more pervasive. Eventually our mission took the difficult and controversial (among the missionaries; it was quite acceptable within the culture) decision to put up walls and hire guards. Foreigners tend to be targets, because of the logical assumption that all foreigners have jobs and the observation that foreigners tend to have more stuff. For our previous 23 years, Paul and I lived in a Cameroonian neighborhood. Our yard had a wall around it, but we never had a guard. We felt safe because we were part of a neighborhood that watched out for itself. This is our first experience living on a somewhat high-security center. Here is what I do when I go out: unplug the computers (in case of a power surge), turn off the fans and radio (electricity is expensive); close the windows (This is dry season, so I can skip that step for the next month or so); put on my sunscreen; put on my insect repellant; bolt the backdoor with its seven, hard-to-work bolts (I’ve put that on the “Honey-do list”); go out the front and lock that door. You can see why I was annoyed when the guard insisted that I come out right away.

Chips, Part II

Chips, Part II
This morning I got a call from the guard mentioned above, saying that he is here with the chips. He is excited and wants me to come now to get them. Somewhat annoyed but not wanting to offend, I get my wallet and close up the apartment (see below.) As I do, I realize that my assumption about his motives may mean that jadedness is already kicking in. I ask God to give me wisdom. Just then I see Philip, the young man (a former student) who lives in one of the other apartments on the center. I tell him the situation, and he says to me, “Oh, he gave me chips when I moved in, too.” I am greatly relieved. Nevertheless, when I accept the chips, I tell the guard that he has to understand that I am still going to interview the other women and pray about whom to hire. He seems genuinely confused, and protests that the chips have nothing to do with that. We shake hands and I go home with my chips.
Being an overseas missionary is sort of a two-part thing. We’re here to do certain jobs that we believe will contribute to the translation of the Bible into Cameroonian languages. As a pilot/mechanic, Paul maintains and flies the airplane that transports missionaries, church workers, medical staff, medical emergencies, supplies, etc. I work with the boards in the mission (here and elsewhere) to help them govern effectively. But probably the more important part of our work is to live out Christ among the people around us. We’re pretty comfortable and skilled with the former, but the latter reminds me daily how little I have to offer unless the Lord leads and enables me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

As If I Could Be Bought off for Anything Less than Dark Chocolate

Last night a very pleasant woman came to the door. She said that she needs a job and that our friend Vreni had told her that we might be looking for house help. We invited her in and chatted for a bit. She has several children and has been looking for work since her previous employer, another missionary family, left a few months ago. We told her that we would think about it. This morning when I was leaving the center, the guard (All of our centers, like most office compounds, have guards to keep out thieves) stopped me and asked me if he could ask me for a favor.
- Of course you may ask.
- My sister (see above post about sisters) came to see you. I am asking you to please give her some work.
- Well, we liked her, and we may decide to hire someone for a few hours a week, but we have also been given some other names and we want to meet those women before we decide.
- Please, Madame, I am truly begging you. She will work well for you. Please do this.
- I will pray that the Lord will show me the right person to offer the job. How is that?

What could he say? He nodded a bit sadly and let me out. But when I came back, he looked much more chipper, and asked me if we like chips (fried plantain chips.) I love fried plantain chips, but I try to avoid fried foods. Thinking that his wife or another “sister” probably sell them, I told him that my husband likes them very much. He then said that he would bring me some tomorrow. Ohhhh, now I get it. He is offering me a bribe to hire his sister. So when he brings the chips, I will ask him how much they are. If he says that they are a gift, I will tell him that we accept, but that he must understand that I will still be praying and interviewing the other women before deciding whether or not to hire his sister.
Uncles, Aunties, Brothers and Sisters
The notion of family is quite different here. Family members are those who are in your same ethnic group or, to use the politically incorrect term, tribe. If someone tells me that his sister has just died, he might be speaking of a biological sibling, or it may be what we would call a third cousin. All of these relationships are hugely important, and less importance is put on the nuclear family. Uncles take on a special role, acting in many instances (for example, negotiating a marriage) as a father would. Aunts or “aunties” are also important. If a daughter has bad news, she will often go first to her mother or father’s sister (or even some other trusted adult) with it, so that the aunt can deal with it as she sees appropriate. Thus years ago, Coneilia came to me with the tragic news that her sister’s (Patricia) fiancé had died unexpectedly. When I asked her how Patricia was doing, I was informed that she didn’t know yet, and it was my task to inform her.
My friend Winnie emailed to say that she laughed when she saw my blog address, because it reminds her of “nerd.” I wrote back to say that when I head out to walk somewhere, I probably qualify, with my backpack (water bottle attached), visor, and a pedometer attached to my waist. The goal this morning was to visit Coneilia, my best friend in Cameroon and one of my favorite people in the world. Coneilia came to work for us when she was a teenage bride (She fudged her age to get the job) and stayed with us for the next seventeen years. She was a second mother to my daughters and a friend and confidant to me. She saw me through the ups and downs of parenthood and assorted illnesses and tragedies, including the deaths of my mother and father. I did the same for her. When we left here in 2003, my greatest grief, and Lexi’s and Karen’s, was leaving Coneilia. Now she is working at a hostel (like a dorm, only more family-like) run by one of the missions that is served by the high school. Mostly she cooks. As I walked in the door, the familiar smell of her banana bread almost made me weep. (Then the parrot near the door started whistling the theme song from The Bridge over the River Kwai, and the moment was lost.) Coneilia is a strong woman. She never had children of her own, which is about the worst thing that can befall a Cameroonian. So she “adopted” a niece and nephew, we had ahich is common. She brought them to live with her, paid their school fees, fed and cared for them. Her husband Sunday died of AIDS the year that we left, but Coneilia went on to build her own house (almost with her own hands) and to fight the government bureaucracy for Sunday’s military pension. Now, in addition to her job at the hostel, she takes in boarders and says yes to anyone who asks her for help. We had a wonderful visit, and I left with a fresh loaf of banana bread for “Uncle Paul.”

Monday, January 12, 2009

Monday, January 12

Tonight we went for a walk before dinner. We passed a group of women on the sidewalk, dressed in long, loose matching dresses and head scarves, as is common for women's clubs or church groups. One of the women caught my eye, and then exclaimed (in French), "Is it possible?! Is that Madame Nanci?!" I recognized her as a former neighbor whom I hadn't seen for maybe ten years. We performed the standard greeting between close friends: we embraced, then kissed each other's left cheek, then right, then left again, then backed up and shook hands. But then of course Paul and I also had to shake the hands of all of the women with her, and say that we were glad to meet them. No names were exchanged: Cameroonians use names very differently from how we do. (That will be the topic for another post sometime.) As my friend Rose and I caught up, the other women chattered away in Ewondo. I remembered enough of that language to understand that the conversation went something like this:

Woman 1"That's the woman who used to run here."
Woman 2 "Oh, yes! Back and forth, back and forth."
Woman 3 "I saw her run right down this sidewalk, every day, every day."
Rose (leaning over to get in her part) "Yes, she used to run and run and run."
Woman 1 "She used to run right on this road. I saw her running here."

As we parted, we again shook hands all around. Cameroonians shake hands a lot.
Paul is out the door at 6 am. His colleague is flying to Maroua, in the north of the country, to pick up some missionary children and bring them back to Yaounde, where they live in a hostel while attending Rain Forest International School (RFIS, where I used to teach.) He and Paul will use the flight time to perform Paul’s check ride so that he can begin flying right away. I am happy to sleep in until my alarm goes off at 8:30.
My good friends Lois and Julia, both of whom work at RFIS, have invited me to lunch. At 11:30, I put my water bottle and passport (The law requires that one carry ID at all times) into my backpack, slather on the sunscreen and head out. It is a pleasant 80 degrees and not too sunny, so the hilly mile and a half doesn’t concern me. The road from my apartment to theirs is one of the busiest in the city and there is no sidewalk. Most of the time I walk on the uneven ground next to the road, but I am frequently obliged to cross onto the road to avoid fruit stands, crude homeless shelters, women grilling fish, or taxi drivers washing their cars. This means jumping the two feet wide sewage ditch that borders the road – a jump that I am very careful not to miss. I pass hundreds of people, many of whom stare but surprisingly few of whom greet me. Two young men say “bonjour” wolfishly and make little kissing noises. I turn, feign annoyance, and scold them in French. “Vous n’avez pas de respect?” “Have you no respect? Here I am, an old woman who could be your mother. Imagine: your mother is walking along like this, and some young men would treat her with such disrespect. Is that what you want for your mother?” They fall all over themselves to apologize. “No, Madame, excusez, Madame. Bonne année, bonne année."

La bonne année -When we first realized that we would be returning to Cameroon in January, I said to Paul, “Oh, no… bonne année!” (Happy new year.) New Year’s is an important holiday in Cameroon, even more so than Christmas for many people. Beginning on January 1 and continuing until sometime in February or even March, acquaintances and even complete strangers will call out , “Bonne année”, which then obliges the hearer to give them a small gift. We used to buy large bags of candy and distribute them to our neighbors on January 1 so that we could cover some of the obligation all at once. In this case, since the young men have wronged me, I just say, “Bonne année” in return, to indicate that all is forgiven, and continue on my way. When others along my path call out, “Bonne année”, I clap my hands together once then hold them, palms up, out to my sides, in a gesture that indicates that I have nothing to give them.
Julia and Lois seem as excited to see me as I am them. I am delighted to see that they have both shed the excess pounds - about 100 between them - that had been giving them health problems. They feed me a very nutritious and yummy lunch of whole wheat bread, salad, tuna and pineapple, then fill me in on school news. I will be giving my first workshop at the school on Thursday.
The walk home at 3 pm, in the heat of the day, is less pleasant. The little thermometer attached to my backpack tells me that it is about 90, but the humidity makes it feel hotter, and the frequent jumps over the sewer are more of a strain. When I get home, I consider my options for cooling down: drinking ice water, taking a shower and sitting in front of the fan. I decide on all three..”
“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.
Friday, Jan 9
We arrived in Cameroon around midnight. It has been over two years since our last visit, and before we even leave the airport, we note a few changes. The baggage handlers have been disciplined to stay back, away from the arrivals, so we aren’t mobbed and don’t have to argue with anyone. We merely point to our choice, and he comes forward with the luggage cart. At first we don’t see many familiar faces, but within a few minutes the word gets around that “Monsieur et Madame Paul” are back, and a steady stream of airport employees approach to greet us.
We are thankful that all of our luggage has arrived with us. (Well, except for the camera that I absent-mindedly left in the taxi in Casablanca, that is. So it will be awhile before I can post any pictures.)
Daryl from the Aviation Department drives us the fifteen miles to the SIL center where we will live for the next few months. We have been assigned a very pleasant apartment that is away from the bustle of the offices. I am sad to learn that the wireless stops a few meters from our door but relieved to find the broadband cable in the small room that will be my office.
We are amazed that the apartment is very clean. We are very grateful when we learn that several of our colleagues spent the day at it.
We don’t go to bed until after 2 am. We have been traveling for thirty-nine hours and are exhausted.