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."