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 FĂȘte 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.