Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thank you for continuing to check my lonely little blog. A few weeks ago I realized that I was in serious danger of not completing all of my coursework and needed to make some strict priorities. I'm sorry that I didn't let you know that I wouldn't be writing for awhile. I still can't post much. We are traveling for three days (to attend the dedication of the Noni New Testament in the NW Province), then Christmas, then my last coursework and final exam on Dec. 29, then off to the beach for a week, then on January 7, my return to the US.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

At harvest time, the churches in Cameroon hold "Harvest Thanksgiving." In many churches it lasts for four weeks. The first week is led by "the youths", the second by the men, the third by the women and the fourth by no one in particular. This week was the men's week. When we arrived, we saw a white sheet wrapped around something tall and bulky near the front of the church. At the end of the service, all of the men went out, then danced back in and put their special offerings into a basket. Then they asked one of the most respected men in the congregation to come to the front to unveil the item.
He removed the sheet to reveal a "tree" concocted of palm and other branches, onto which all kinds of fruits and fake flowers (made from toilet paper) had been wired. Then they announced that the men should come and "harvest" for their wives, meaning that they should give a donation in order to pick a fruit or flower. When Paul went up, he said that he wanted two pick two fruits: one for his wife and one for his "daughter," paying about $20 for a grapefruit for me and a bunch of bananas for Conelia, who beamed. There were still quite a few things on the tree when men stopped coming forward, and the leaders kind of stood around, not knowing what to do next. So Conelia took matters in hand. She danced to the front, picked an orange from the tree and said, "I harvest this for everyone in this church, because I love everyone. But when I buy you this fruit, I have to give my taxi money, so I'm hoping someone will give me a lift home." Everyone laughed, then she took the basket away from the man holding it and continued, "Now I want everyone to come and put something in the basket until the harvest is done." The choir started singing, and Conelia started dancing in the front, holding the basket in front of her, and people started streaming forward to put their small change into the basket in exchange for a fruit or flower.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Conelia was the usher at church last Sunday. After she had seated us, I realized that she hadn't given us a bulletin (a photocopied sheet, folded double). I beckoned her over and told her what I wanted, then teased her by saying that she should be fired. She said, "Oh, we don't give them to people, because they just throw them away." She gave me one, although I'm sure that she knew that we weren’t likely to keep ours, either.
Partway through the service I went to the back to get a photo of her ushering. (Sorry – it won't come off of my phone.) She whispered to me that she hates the job, because the two women who happened to be sitting in front of Paul and me always come in late but refuse to go to the front. I pointed out that Paul and I come late (meaning that we come when the service is actually starting, about 20 min. past its scheduled starting time) and that we don't like to sit in the front, either. She sniffed and said, "Well you people are different." Then she added that the women ignore her when she asks them to scoot over to make room for others. Most of the time I try not to take advantage of my status (accorded to me simply because of my skin color), but I don't like it when people mess with Conelia and decided to make an exception. So I told her that she should go ask them again. She did, and they ignored her. So I went up to them and whispered, "Being an usher is really difficult. Why do you want to make it harder for them by not moving over when they ask you?" They moved over, but surprisingly little. I told Conelia that next week she should seat Paul and me next to them. If they don't move, we will sit on their laps.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Today I was walking along a busy street, on the way back from visiting Conelia, when I heard cars honking and braking. I turned and saw that a young man had run out into the street, crossing to my side. Something about him bothered me, so I turned and walked faster. As I turned up a side street near home, he turned, too. I crossed to the other side of the street; he crossed; I crossed back, so did he. I moved my backpack from my back to my side and wrapped my arms around it. He kept coming closer. Finally I stepped almost off of the road and turned a little, waiting for him to pass. He slowed down as he came near and mumbled something in French. I was deciding whether to: 1.ignore him 2. reply in French, would have encouraged someone who was making me uncomfortable (although I wasn't sure why) 3. reply in English. If he didn't know any, he might leave me alone, but if he knew even a little, he would want to practice it. 4. reply in Spanish, which I have done a few times in similar situations. Depending on what he wanted with me, that might discourage him, or it might make him happy, as it would indicate that I am a stranger and don't know much. I was still deciding when I heard someone hollering and looked up the road to where some taxi drivers were washing their cars in a stream. One was yelling at him, "Why are you following that White lady like that?" while another was calling to me, "Watch out for that guy: he's following you." Without thinking I hollered back (in French) that I knew that he was. He looked confused, then laughed and walked rapidly ahead. When I walked past the taxi drivers and thanked them, they told me to watch out further up the road in case he waited for me, but he didn't. I went home happy, because it felt good to have people watch out for me.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Everywhere that I go with my friend Henny, people exclaim over the resemblance. The other day Henny went with me to visit Conelia. When she walked in the door, Conelia jumped up and down and shouted, "It's my Aunt Nanci's photocopy!"

Friday, November 18, 2011

Today one of my Cameroonian friends asked me to talk with her about breast cancer prevention. I shared with her the things that I have learned, like consuming lots of antioxidants and keeping my blood sugar even, partly by avoiding refined carbohydrates. She said that she would have a hard time giving up sugar, so I suggested that if she did it a little at a time, she would get used to it and eventually wouldn't even miss it. For example, I told her that years ago I took sugar in my coffee and tea, but now I don't much like hot drinks that are sweet. I told her that in the three months we have been here, we have used only one cup of sugar, and that was for a cake we took to someone else's house. She was dumbfounded. She told me that she uses that much almost every day, just putting sugar into her coffee or tea. We have often noticed that Cameroonians treat hot drinks like vehicles for milk and sugar. They will whiten their tea or coffee with sweetened condensed milk (which is sort of like liquid fudge, but without the chocolate), then add two or three heaping tablespoons of sugar. (Call it the poor man's frappuccino. ) I thought about how Americans only like drinks that sweet if they come in bottles and have some chemicals thrown in, too.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

We have a Cameroonian acquaintance who recently had her wedding invitations printed in her hometown. A month ago, when she ordered them by phone from Yaounde, she was told that they would be ready for her when she traveled home three weeks later (last weekend) to pick them up, and she could pay then. But when she got there, they told her that now that she was there, she could pay and they would start to print them. But even before that, they had to renegociate the price. She did that, agreeing to pay slightly less than their asking price (although more than the originally agreed-upon price.) When she went to pick them up two days later, they had printed only 280 of the requested 300, because she hadn't paid enough.

In talking about the invitations, she assured me that she and her husband had not had their pictures printed on the invitations, because when people have your picture, they can "do things" to you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

- A car with the back windshield broken out but with a large umbrella sticking out of it.
- Another car with the back windshield missing, but this one was covered in what looked like layers and layers of plastic wrap.
- A woman who stopped us on the sidewalk to talk to us, while swinging a large fish.
- A temporary car wash park, located in an empty lot. The water source was the large puddles remaining from the night's rain. (We often see people using potholes or the swamp for the same purpose.)
- A small mountain of plastic bottles floating on the open sewer that flows past the grocery store where we often shop. They were piling up next to the drive leading into the parking lot, which crosses the open sewer carrying the bottles.)
- Egg pyramids. (People selling eggs by the side of the road stack them in pyramids.) I must remember to keep my friend Char away from them if she ever visits me here.
- A guy selling water – by the plastic mug – out of a pushcart. (Paul commented, "It reminds me to be thankful for clean water – and clean dishes.")
- Lots of people swinging a live chicken in each hand. (This was near the market where people go to buy chickens.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

This photo was taken from our front drive. In the foreground you see one of our dog kennels and the wall. (See the broken glass on top? That's where the rooster perched. Now you know why I yelled "ouch.") In the background you can see a large white building, which is the Xaviera hotel. The high school sometimes holds its end-of-year banquet there. Lots of people hold parties there, and they usually make a lot more noise and last far later into the night than the banquet, but that's a subject for another post. Behind the hotel (to the upper left of the hotel in the photo) you see another white building, with a red roof. That is where Coneilia works as a cook for one of the dorms where some of the high schoolers live. And if you look very carefully to the front of those buildings,, you can see the steep road that runs past them. This morning Coneilia called me. (I didn't answer but called her right back, because here we pay per call, and only the person who initiates the call pays. Most people just call, let it ring once, then hang up, expecting us to call them back. But Coneilia never presumes anything.) She was very excited, saying that she was climbing the hill on her way to work and wanted to know if I could see her. I went out in my yard and looked, and for the next few minutes we sounded a lot like that Verizon commercial, only we were saying, "Can you see me now?" When she finally came past the big tree and into sight, we both waved like mad for several minutes, then she said, "Now I'm late to work and have to run!"

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Last weekend, our friends Tangko (who works with Paul) and Euphrasia came to dinner. We served one of my favorite dishes, Poulet D.G. (which, loosely translated, means" CEO chicken." No one can tell me how it got the name. Along with the chicken it includes carrots, plantains, green beans and potatoes, and it's pretty similar to a pile of slowly roasted winter vegetables (but with palm instead of olive oil.) Euphrasia brought us some koki and yams, so we served that, too, and had a real feast.

We talked with them for a long time about the situation with D. (See "How We Came to Have a Rooster", below.) Tangko said that he wouldn't give him anything, because he has never shown any repentance for his thieving, and we shouldn't reward him. Paul continued to argue that God forgives us over and over again, and never stops giving to us, so we should do the same. I argued back that God forgives us but also allows us to suffer the consequences of our sins and mistakes. Euphrasia said that she would be afraid to have anything at all to do with him, because someone who has stolen from you will hurt you again. Then Tangko brought up how D. had also stolen from him: he had taken all of his tools from the hangar. I said that maybe we should tell D. that we wouldn't help him unless he replaced the tools; Tangko told me that Paul already had. (Like I keep saying, Paul is very charitable.) They also said that it is not possible for the family of the prospective bride to forget to include cloth and a goat on the dowry list. They suspected that the couple had only thought about a wedding after they heard that we were in town and had hastily scribbled the list before coming to see us. Paul wondered what he should say to D. if D. says, "But I thought that you would forgive me." I told him that he should say that if we hadn't forgiven him, we would be asking him to pay us back for all that he stole. I think that Paul is starting to change his mind, but I will still talk to Coneilia. That should be interesting. She is about the only person I know who is more generous than Paul, but she is also intensely loyal and will have no warm thoughts about someone who treated us badly.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Happy Sheep Day! Well, not quite. Today is “La Fête du Mouton” or “feast of the lamb,” a Muslim holy day that is a national holiday in Cameroon. Of course I’m thinking about knitting and my group of knitting friends in North Carolina. After studying for a few hours, I will put my own spin on the day by knitting for an hour or so on my wool jacket and being thankful for the merinos who provided the yarn.

I had a really bad (I mean really, really bad. I actually went into shock for a few hours) experience the other day when all of my textbooks got deleted from my e-reader. I spent almost three hours on Skype with Amazon. (It occurred to me later that might get in trouble with the IT folks at the office for that, but it was an emergency, in my view.) Amazon shuttled me to four different techies, none of whom could figure out why they couldn’t send the books to either my reader or my PC. Eventually one of them took my cell phone number and promised to keep working on it, then call me. That was a few days ago and he still hasn’t. However, eventually Paul and I figured it out. It had to do with the security system here that uses a proxy server. We went to the home of a friend with a good Internet connection, I opened my reader and did a couple of little things, and got back my books. But what a panic.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

This is what I meant in my previous post, when mentioned that D. brought us some bananas and plantains. We have been giving them away as fast as we can, because they are ripening all at once.

Malaria poses a conundrum. We have both had it enough times to leave us with a strong preference not to have it again. There are several drugs that one can take in order to prevent it, but to my way of thinking, they are worse than malaria. (For example there is Larium, which tends to make people psychotic, and doxycycline, which to my great regret we and our daughters took for many years, before a study came out linking long-term antibiotic use with cancer.) This time I am going the natural route with papaya leaf tea. We have several papaya trees in our yard, so it's pretty convenient. Every Saturday morning I go out and pick an old leaf that has turned yellow-bordering-on-brown. (They are less bitter than the green ones.) I wash it and put it in a pot, cover it with water, bring it to a boil and let it steep for awhile. Eventually I drain off the water, chill it for an hour or two, add lemon juice and chug it down. Done. Friends of ours have been using this method for several years now, with great results. I have become a papaya leaf pusher, exhorting Coneilia and other Cameroonian friends to drink it and give it to their children, even if they have to add sugar to get it down. (It's bitter, but nothing that a macho missionary should refuse to drink – especially with a little lemon juice, over ice.)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Our church's Sunday school meets in a separate little building, just a few steps away from where we meet for the service. This means that when the service gets quiet or the children get particularly enthusiastic, their singing tends to dominate whatever is happening in the service. Today during prayer, they struck up a boisterous rendition of "Father Abraham", a song that my own children used to sing in Sunday school. (If you don't know it, think of it as the Judeo-Christian version of "The Hokey Pokey.") I looked out the corner of my eye and saw that Paul, too was smiling, remembering cute little Lexi and Karen, singing loudly while shaking successive limbs. I will stop smiling sometime tomorrow, when the tune will still be stuck in my head.

We attend a little Baptist church a few miles from home. It isn't the large church that we attended for over 20 years: that one is very big and a fair distance from where we live, but it is a "daughter" of our former church. I am intrigued by the Cameroonian sense of humor, which is often different from ours. Here are the things that the congregation found funny in this week's sermon:
- When describing how Jesus healed the servant of a Roman centurian, the pastor noted that the servant had been sick for such a long time and his situation looked so desperate that his own family might have been praying for his death.
- The Bible says that Lazarus had been in the grave for four days before Jesus came to raise him. The point at which they laughed was when he noted that the custom of the time required that someone be dead for three days in order to be considered officially dead. (I guess that is sort of funny when you think about it.)
- This one really brought down the house: the pastor told us that when he was on his recent trip to Korea, a White man stole his cell phone. (The Whites who come to Cameroon tend to be either missionaries or diplomatic corps, so people have the notion that a white person wouldn't cheat or steal.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

This picture is in memory of our late, beloved rooster. We were both pretty sad when we found his mangled remains and realized that the poor dear had finally got up the nerve to come down off the treacherous wall, only to meet what must have been a horrific end in the teeth of Caylin.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A few weeks ago, the son of a friend of ours asked us for advice on how to get himself to the States to study. Among other things, we told him that we can't help him get a visa, because the U.S. Embassy doesn't take kindly to such things. They prefer to deal in person with visa applicants, and they pay no heed to recommendations from ordinary Americans like us. It turned out that he had already paid nearly $50 to someone who had promised to help him apply for the visa lottery, and another, similar amount to someone who was supposedly helping him get a visa to Canada. We told him that he had been scammed, because anyone can go to an embassy and get a visa application (or application for the visa lottery) and fill it out. Last week he asked Paul to help him change the format on some digital photos. When Paul met with him, he learned that the guy has started his own little business , helping people apply for visas to America.

Monday, October 31, 2011

So now, in addition to two dogs who don't get along, we have a rooster. We will happily eat it, but it's pretty scrawny, so we are contemplating keeping it around for awhile to fatten it up. After D. & co. left, we put it into one of the spare dog kennels on the premises. Somehow it escaped. We spent thirty minutes or so trying to corral it so that Paul could put it back in the cage. (We were somewhat hindered by what you might call my rooster phobia, but which I would call good sense when it comes to untrainable foul with pointy feet and sharp beaks. I was once chased around my grandma's farm by a very scary turkey and will never forget it.) Finally Paul closed in, and – whoops – the rooster flew to the broken-glass-studded top of the high wall that surrounds our compound. (I instinctively yelped, "Ouch! Do you suppose he knew there was glass up there before he did that?" Paul gave me an odd look and replied, "Honey, it's a chicken.") This called for a new strategy, involving brooms. When that, too, failed, it occurred to us that luring him down might be easier. Our home owners have a stock of dried corn, so we scattered some around the ground. Sure enough, eventually the rooster came back down. We tried laying a trail into the house (where Paul figured it would be easier to catch him. I didn't argue, but every once in awhile, I think that I see the possible pitfalls in a plan a little more clearly than my dear husband.) Fortunately the rooster doesn't like steps. Next we tried laying the trail directly into another dog kennel (one that doesn't have a hole big enough for a rooster to get through). Eventually we got tired of watching the rooster explore the yard, ignoring our trail, and decided to just leave a bunch of corn in the kennel and go away for awhile. Paul said that he didn't want to spend the afternoon chasing after a rooster. That was my chance to give him an odd look, pointing out that we just had.(P.S. When we checked again in the evening, the rooster was – what else? Roosting - in a tree next to the wall. See picture.)

How we came to have a rooster

On Saturday we received a visit from D., a young man with whom we have a long history. He was our neighbor in our previous home, so we've known him since he was a toddler. As a child, he loved to open and close our gate for us when we would drive in or out. Eventually Paul taught him to do odd jobs like pull weeds or wash the car. As he grew up, that became helping in the hangar, running errands in town and eventually, after Paul taught him to drive and helped him get a license, driving the kids to school. We don't know when he started stealing from us, but it was probably long before we caught him using the car as a sort of unofficial taxi on his way back from the school. We worked through that and Paul gave him a second chance, working in the hangar, until it became clear that for years he had been siphoning off fuel and selling it on the street. Even then, Paul continued to talk to him and try to help him out. The final blow came shortly before we left the country, when D. asked to borrow Paul's bike (which Paul was selling) in order to run a short errand. We never saw him or the bike again, at least, not until we came back. So here he was on Saturday, bringing his woman (J.) and three children to meet us. They had hired a vehicle to bring them into town from the village where they live, but they got out and called us when they got nearby, as they didn't know exactly where the house was. (That gave us time to lock away everything of value before they arrived. We may be naïve, but we do learn eventually.) Paul walked to meet them, only to find that they had come laden with bananas and plantains for us, so he had to hire a car to get everything and everyone to the house.

We offered them the requisite soft drinks and roasted peanuts, and we all sat down to talk. D. immediately started in on stories from the old days. Apparently he had given J. the impression that we were still great buddies – that we were like family to him. He even said at one point that it's rare to have relationships that last so long without ever having a problem. I wondered if his memory is that bad or if maybe he is – like 4% of the population - a sociopath: someone who has no conscience. He kept making the point that we were family to him. Part way into the chitchat, J. turned to D. and said, "Did you tell them about the rooster?" Apparently they had also brought us a rooster. It was cowering in a plastic shopping bag, so Paul hadn't noticed. We trooped out to the porch to look and, sure enough, there was a rooster, fighting his way out of the bag. Both dogs were in their cages, so we left the rooster and went back inside to resume what turned out to be a long and, to me, rather trying visit. I assumed that there was more than a social reason for the bananas, and the rooster had clinched it. Finally, after two hours of small talk, J. (who had spent at least one of the those hours changing her baby's diaper, intervening in the children's fights and, when the children were off playing in the yard, semi-dozing on the couch, got tired of waiting for D. to summon up his courage and got down to business herself. "Did you know that D. and I are trying to get married?" Sure enough, in a few minutes they were pulling out the list of items that J's family has demanded of D. for the bride price: four pigs, bags of potatoes and onions, sacks of rice, jugs of wine, bottles of whiskey – everything that the village needs in order to put on the wedding feast. I was a little surprised that it didn't list lengths of cloth, and I asked them about it. J. answered that her family had forgotten. That seemed odd: how could they forget something so traditional? Then she added, "Even the goat. Everyone knows that every wedding feast has a goat, but they forgot that, too." D. showed us some check marks next to certain items and said that that was where his family members had all agreed to help. The implication (and his earlier insistence that we are family) was clear, and Paul – who is far more charitable than I – said that we would talk about it and decide how we would help, but that we don't have a lot to spare right now, because of my school tuition. I added that they shouldn't expect much from us, because when we return to Cameroon, we get many people who come to us for help, including people who have stored up their requests for two years, just waiting for us to come and help them sort out things they should have taken care of long ago. They laughed and didn't seem to take the hint. I did not say, "Let's just consider all of the things that you stole from us to be our contribution," although I confess that I might well have, had J. and the children not been there.

After they left, Paul and I considered whether or not the whole thing might be a scam. It is pretty inconceivable that her family would forget cloth and the goat. Paul still thought that we were obliged to help them at least to the value of the "gifts" they brought us; I object to being manipulated and to participating in his pretence that we are just one happy family. Forgiveness is one thing; participating in a lie is another. Finally we agreed that we will talk it over with various Cameroonian friends and see what they suggest.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Last weekend we went to our favorite restaurant - Café de Yaoundé - to celebrate the 35th wedding anniversary of our friends David and Henny. I was excited not only about returning to the restaurant, which is located in a wild, overgrown garden of exotic flowering plants (including some spectacular orchids.)
For the past few weeks I had been knitting a shrug as a surprise for Henny, and I finally gave it to her. It fit perfectly, and she really liked it. And our food was delicious and the place was gorgeous, and I was content.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

We have realized that when the conditions are just right (which happens about half of the times that we try), we can pick up our mission's Internet signal either from our back porch or, failing that, in a corner of our backyard. We aren't allowed to use that network for large downloads, but it is often adequate for picking up email, checking our daughters' blogs and posting to this one. Yippee! This has made my life much less complicated. The discovery came just in time, because rainy season is no longer just taunting us but is starting to get serious.

Friday, October 14, 2011

ARGH! I have photos for several posts, but I haven't been able to upload them for the past few days. If you live somewhere that has good – although maybe not perfect –Internet access and you complain about it, just stop. (I suppose that my colleagues who work out in villages and have to go to the top of the tallest hill in order to pick up their email off of a phone connection would say the same to me.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Last night (after I had written that post about how handy Paul is) we came home from our Bible study to find ourselves locked out of our house. Neither my key nor Paul's would turn in the lock. While I stewed and prattled on about things like who would take us in for the night and where and how expensive the nearest locksmith might be, Paul was examining the door. Recognizing the signs, I sat down and pulled out my knitting. I knitted and watched as he calmly explored all of the edges of the double doors. From out of nowhere, he produced a tool and started patiently working at the bottom of one side, until he had removed the seal. This allowed him to get his tool or his fingers in to release the latch that went into the floor, which then allowed him to pull open the two doors simultaneously, in spite of the dead bolt. This morning he removed the lock entirely and took it with him to the hangar to "see what he can do." (He needs me, too: I will have to call and remind him to bring it home.)

Having my own, resident fix-it guy is quite a perk. I can count on one hand – with fingers left over - the times that we have had to call any kind of repairman in our married life, and people who know Paul like to outdo each other with stories of him fixing the unfixable. But there is a downside. I sometimes joke that I was really glad when cameras switched to digital so that I didn't have to ask for help in changing the film because, after all, I married a mechanic when I was 19. Likewise, it is wonderful to live in America where we have libraries and bookstores and easy Internet access, because we can always find instructions for doing whatever it is we want to do. The downside is that we always need instructions. My friend Lydie had learned how to knit years before she met me, but she didn't really "have the bug" until she saw me knitting at meetings and coffee breaks during one of my previous trips. Now she knits lots, without access to much in the way of supplies, including patterns. One day I showed her a fairly complicated (for someone who hadn't done it before, I mean) lace pattern I was knitting, and when she admired it I told her to bring her needles and yarn so that I could teach it to her the next time we met. She did – along with several inches of the pattern, which she had gone home and figured out for herself. I felt very stupid and very American, because even after having made this pattern several times, I still need the instructions.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I have a very good friend who works in the eastern part of the country. In a phone call, she told me that their sous-prefet (sortof like a lieutenant governor) ordered that all of the churches close on election Sunday, to ensure that everyone will have time to vote. Apparently he said that that is the only thing that people should think of doing that day. (The pastors were outraged and vowed to ignore him, but I don't know for sure what happened.) This wasn' t his first eratic order: recently he ordered that all of the buildings that face the road that runs through the town be painted pink.
Election day in Yaoundé was uneventful. Our church had a time of prayer for the elections instead of the usual sermon. We prayed that:
- none of the parties would have thugs at the polls to intimidate voters.
- the ballots would be protected from the time they were cast until they showed up in the counting place.
- the counters would count accurately.
- the results that were announced would be the same as the results of the count.
- that people would accept the results and not make trouble.
I don't remember praying that people who had registered would be able to vote, but that would have been a good idea. Of the several AnglophonesI have asked, not one was able to vote. They either weren't allowed to register, or they registered, but their name didn't show up on the voting list.
On Saturday I went for some routine tests at what some consider to be the best medical lab in town. After they drew my blood, I asked to use the restroom. The lab tech pointed me to what I assume was the staff restroom, because as I approached, a woman in a white lab coat and an official-looking name tag was coming out. It was a very small room with no seat on the toilet and no toilet paper. The toilet had not been flushed, and I soon realized why: there was no water, either in the toilet or the faucet. Neither was there soap.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Last week Linda made my favorite Cameroonian dish: koki (aka bean cake). It can be made with different things, my two favorite of which are corn and beans (not together, although that might be pretty good, too.) If you make it with squash seeds instead of beans or corn, it is called egussi pudding, which is very popular in certain provinces here, especially when dried fish or meat are added. But koki is the best, à mon avis.

I only got pictures of a few of the steps, but here is how you make koki bean:

- Soak a bunch of little white beans (known, of course, as koki beans), then cook them until soft. (You can also cook in some garlic, onions and hot peppers if you like, but Linda made it pretty plain.)
- In the meantime, soak very large leaves – like banana leaves – in hot water until they are pliable.
- Pound the beans to death, adding enough water to liquefy them.
- Form the leaves into cups and pour a gob of bean liquid into each one. (This isn't as difficult as it sounds. The trick is to make sure that you don't have any holes in the leaves or gaps where one leaf overlaps another.) Add a generous glug of palm oil, then secure the bundle with string.
- Put leftover leaves and stems into the bottom of a pot, and add an inch of so of water (to form a double boiler of sorts). Put the bundles on top and steam them for about two hours.

- When it is done, the final koki is very much like the outside of a tamale, even when it is made when beans rather than corn. After we ate a meal or two of it as the main dish, I made a very acceptable tamale pie by lining a pan with koki, then layering on beans, chili-seasoned meat, hot sauce and cheese.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Meet Villa and Kaylin, our watch dogs. They are very good at their job, which they demonstrated to us by barking loudly at anything within the vicinity of our compound at night: people, vehicles, other dogs, cats, rats and , apparently flies and cockroaches. After three almost sleepless nights, we figured something had to change. So on a hunch, we put Villa, the primary offender, in her cage one night. It would have worked, were Villa not insanely jealous of Kaylin. When we let Villa out the next morning (after our good night's sleep) she attacked Kaylin. However, she really did seem to be cured of the incessant barking. So for awhile we left them both out most of the time, and whenever we wanted to pet Kaylin, put medicine on her ear-sores or brush her, we first put Villa in her cage, then took Kaylin around the corner, out of Villa's sight. Being a dog, Villa was not fooled, and eventually there were severe reprisals. So now we keep them out only one at a time, and we are looking for another temporary home for Kaylin.

Our House

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

This morning on BBC's Africa service I heard an interview with a member of President Biya's cabinet. The reporter was hitting him hard on the subject of roads, noting that 1. less than 10% of Cameroon's roads are paved and 2. the "ring road" that was promised to the people of the NW Province in 1984 still hasn't been completed. She asked him why he thought that people would vote for the President, and he replied, "As you know, the people of Cameroon are known above all for their patience. They understand that it is good and right to support their President! And we all know that he who laughs last, laughs best."

Friday, September 30, 2011


On all of our previous trips to Cameroon, we marveled at how little had changed since our previous visit. This time, we are constantly caught off guard by what is different. So many buildings have been torn down and new ones put up that we tend to get disoriented and confused when driving through town. Women's dress has also changed. We see many women of all ages and socioeconomic levels wearing pants in public. (I would still feel guilty doing so, although I suspect that that will change over the next few months.) I have even seen several women wearing sleeveless dresses in church, a change I will welcome if it turns out to apply across the board. (Seeing something here or there, doesn't mean that it's okay for middle-aged, Christian women.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Last weekend Paul and I went shopping for tennis shorts for him. Both the French Embassy and the American school have recreational clubs, and occasionally he will have time to play. Went into the shop that we thought was most likely to have something, and they did – for about $60.00. He asked the employee if he could tell us of anywhere else we could look. The man shrugged and said, "Is that any of my business? I sell what is here. Why would I care what anyone else does?" We realized that it was a dumb question, notions of customer care being rather different here from what we are used to in the States.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

This morning I had Linda, our househelp, help me make soup. We cooked the various vegetables that I had on hand (onion, celery, cauliflower, zucchini, carrots), then put them all in the food processor. When it was done, she asked me what we eat it with (Rice? Plantains? Manioc?) I told her that we eat it "like that" –without anything else, except maybe some bread and cheese, eaten separately from the soup. She was taken aback at first, the after thinking about it she observed, "If you ate it with a fork, you wouldn't get much."

My Internet situation hasn't improved, but my adaptation to it has. I have various options that I can turn to, depending on what I need. At home, we have a USB stick that can sometimes get us a connection through cell technology. This is random (It works about half of the time), slow, and, given how slow it is, expensive. (We pay in 15 min. increments.) About two blocks away, I can access our mission's system, if I ask some colleague or other if I can intrude. (It is not where our offices are. Rather, it is the vicinity of a housing complex where many of our missionaries live and the offices of CABTAL, our Cameroonian partner organization.) Two blocks may not seem far until you consider that this is rainy season and the road is neither paved nor graded, so walking there with a computer is dicey. The connection is reasonably reliable and moderately fast, but I am limited during office hours to downloads of 20mb: not nearly enough for the audio recordings of my lectures, ebooks or Skype. (I can Skype after hours, but big downloads need to be cleared with our IT dept in advance.) So in order to get my lectures and books, I need to find a kind colleague who will let me come into their house and use the connection for which they pay each month, separate from our mission's system. I can also ask our mission's IT dept to schedule an evening download for me, which I have now done for those of my lectures that were pre-recorded and posted before the start of the course. The fast, relatively reliable connection that we were thinking of getting is becoming less and less of an option, so I'm working at getting along with what we've got.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I didn't plan to write about this here, because this blog is about Cameroon, and it happened on the trip back from Ecuador earlier this month. But my friend Char pleaded with me to do so. (She loves it when I humiliate myself.) So just to remind her that I am not proud:
On the day I left Quito, I woke up at 3 am with a splitting headache and couldn't get back to sleep, so by the time I reached Miami, I was very tired. (That's the excuse. I'm a little proud.) This was just prior to the tenth anniversary of 9/11 so security was tight, and the lines were the longest and slowest I've ever seen. It took me over an hour to get through customs to where you recheck your bag. When I saw the baggage check guy, I stopped cold and exclaimed, "I forgot to get my suitcase!" He was surprised, but he found an airline employee to go back through security with me. We elbowed our way through the crowd, and when we got to the baggage carrousel I said, "Oh, no! I just remembered that I didn't check a bag! I came with just my carry-on." She gave me a long look, gestured toward customs and said, "You'll have to tell it to them." So we stood in line – wouldn't you know that she would pick the same one I had been in before? When I finally got up to the agent, he screwed his face up and said, "Didn't you come through here already?" I told him my story, and he looked at me for a long time, without smiling. Finally he said, "Follow the red line." (That's where the people go whom they believe to be lying or smuggling or whatever it is that they think.) Another line, another unsmiling agent (Who trains these people?) who scrutinized me, then waved me through. Finally I was back to the airline employee (where the whole thing began. When he saw me coming, he called out, "Where's your suitcase?"
Me: I don't have one.
Him: Oh, no – they lost it?
Me: No, I mean I never had one. I didn't check a bag on this trip.
Him: What? You mean…
And then he laughed, which was what I had hoped all of those other people would do.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Here is the kind of situation that we face regularly and that continues to tie us in knots: I was sitting peacefully at home this afternoon, taking a break from studying by knitting a few rows (on something that is a surprise for a friend who may or may not read this blog) when the doorbell rang. I went out to the gate, called out, "Qui est-ce?" and got back the answer that it was my neighbor, Marc, whom I don't know. But he sounded nice, so I opened up. He greeted me, then told me that he is desperate for help, because his newborn has a serious infection and is in the hospital. He made it sound like life and death (which of course it may have been – how would I know?) He needed 6500 CFA, or about $15.00, for medicine. I asked to see the prescription: he said he hadn't brought it with him. I asked him for the name of the medicine and he told me. I asked him to describe the problem, which he did – in great detail. All of the time I was thinking about what I should do. We don't usually give people money in such cases, unless we know them well, know the need to be real or have some way of verifying it. I had only about 45 minutes before I needed to be at CTC (the mission's training center) in order to do some important business online. So I went through my protocol by telling him that of course I would have to phone Monsieur Paul. This is to be expected, and it gives me both time to think and a second opinion. Paul agreed that I shouldn't give him money but really couldn’t offer much help otherwise – like I said, we still get tied in knots. Finally I told Marc that I was leaving soon for the training center and would meet him at a certain point along the way so that I could go with him to the clinic where the meds had been prescribed. When it came time to leave, it was just starting to rain, so I went back in and put my laptop inside of a plastic bag, inside my backpack. As I picked my way through the muddy street, getting wetter and wetter by the minute (I was trying to keep my umbrella over my backpack rather than over me), I kept wondering whether or not he would show up. If it was a scam, the rain might keep him away. Even if it wasn't, he might assume that I wouldn't come in the rain. I also prayed for the baby – if there is one – and for my computer, and for wisdom and patience and that I wouldn't get too grouchy because, after all, "The Lord loves a cheerful giver." A couple of times I thought about turning back, but then I thought that it might be true, and a baby might be very sick, and I could easily manage $15.00 and a soaking in order to save a baby's life. What if this incident was the real purpose that God had in bringing us back to Cameroon? To shorten the story: I met up with him; we went to the clinic; they verified his story; and I gave him the money. I told him to bring me the receipt and the box the meds come in tomorrow morning, and he assured me that he will. But it means nothing. If it is a scam, he can just split the money with the guy at the pharmacy, who will give him a receipt and a box. Or he can buy the meds and sell them later: people often sell single pills on the street. In that case, I will have encouraged him to continue a life of dishonesty. On the other hand, he may be a perfectly honest, desperate father, and I may have been in a position to help him save a baby that will grow up to cure cancer or be the next Billy Graham. Most likely I will never know the end of this story.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

When I arrived, I was a little disappointed not to get the royal welcome to which I'd become happily accustomed. Rather, all was relatively quiet and boring in the baggage area. Although there were porters, they weren't clamoring and fighting to handle my bags. Apparently the airport has cracked down and told those who are allowed to handle baggage that they need to allow the customer to come to them, and for the most part they are complying. Shortly after Paul and I found each other, we did hear someone call, "Tango Mike!" and turned to saw a traffic controller bustling forward to greet us. (For those readers who don't spend much time around aircraft, the "name" of the airplane is the combination of numbers and letters painted on it, pronounced in the international aviation alphabet. The airplane here is N123TM, so when Paul is flying the controllers call him "November One Two Three Tango Mike", or "Tango Mike" for short.) After we collected my suitcases and left the baggage area, I got my welcoming committee. Half a dozen or so young men were standing around, hoping to find passengers who wanted help loading their cars. They all greeted us excitedly, so I got to hear the "Madame Paul!" that tells me I am truly back. As we walked to the car, several of them tagged along, chatting and asking about our family. When we got to the car, they insisted good naturedly that they had been guarding it and that we owed them money. We reminded them that Paul hadn't asked anyone to guard the car, so they asked if we had a little money for him to get some coffee. Paul told him truthfully that he had no change, and the man said, "Okay, next time." Next time he will remind Paul that he "promised" to give him money.

Still no reliable Internet at home. We have a stick that allows us to get a cell connection, but when I tried to pull up my email this morning, it timed out before I got any messages. We drove into town on Thursday and talked to what is supposed to be the best provider company. For about $300, we can have wireless for the next three months . I am feeling so desperate to get going on my courses that we are considering it, although we didn't budget that much for it.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Still no reliable Internet; still working on it. Sigh. Frankly, the blog is the least of my worries, but I do intend to get it going when I can.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Blogging again - sort of - from Cameroon

No pictures yet. My plan is to use my cell phone for taking them, so first I need to get my phone unlocked so that it can use a local SIM card. In order to unlock it, I first need to have the SIM card. But the woman who sells the SIM cards is on vacation until Monday. The man who explained all of this to me smiled apologetically and said, "It's too bad that you arrived this very week." It all felt very familiar and made me feel more at home than anything else since I arrived.

Neither do we have regular Internet access. I can get decent access about a half a mile away, at the mission's training center, but this is rainy season, so carrying my computer there and back is a little dicey. (When Paul told me that the brakes on the vehicle that has been loaned to us are unreliable, I decided that I'll stay on foot for awhile.) We are working on various possibilities for that: everyone seems to have a solution to offer, none of which have panned out for us. In the meantime, I won't be posting much. But also in the meantime, I'm thinking that it's about time to give this puppy a name. Any ideas?