WAYCIMA From Cameroon!
Based on that little snippet of anglo pigeon (Translation: Good Afternoon) you may think we have become masters of the local speak here in Fundong, Cameroon. Alas, we have only mastered the greetings for morning, afternoon, and night, but rest assured, we are all quickly learning. Hilary, our local guide, friend, and all around savior; has assured us we are off to a promising start. At least, that’s how I’m going to translate his chortles of laughter.
Hilary is only one of the amazing people we have met since arriving here 8 days ago. Since arrival, we have been treated with the utmost hospitality and kindness. The major of Fundong and the director of BFF have welcomed us into their homes and families with infinitely expanding arms. Everyone’s arms here seem to be infinitely expanding, all seemingly Elastic Girl superheroes of love. Already, we are a part of the Cameroonian family, as they are a part of ours.
Due to our American grown immune system, we suffered some weariness this week and were forced to postpone the water project a couple days. It will go on as planned starting tomorrow, June 30th. But our bodies are now bustling with antibiotics and Jon (The Peace Corps volunteer for BFF, and all-around MVP)’s homemade chili and mashed potatoes and we are all now healthier than a Triple Crown winning racing horse. Yee-haw.
Our little Nourish family is also again reunited; Kacey worked the passport system with Herculean strength and arrived on Thursday. With all hands aboard, we anticipate near perfect winds in what remains of our seven-week journey.
Coming at you with Peace&Love&A Firm But Loving Handshake,
Kalie, Sameen, Cat, Kacey, Elliot, Alec, Blair, and Chrisi.
I am writing this frantically on my dying cellphone, so please excuse both brevity and lack of pictures. The most important news is that Kacey Hopson will not be traveling with us to Cameroon due to a lost passport and other documents. While she plans to follow us as soon as possible, the lack of the word “expedient” in the bureaucratic vocabulary will likely mean that Kacey won’t be able to make the trip for the next several weeks. We hope that she will be able to arrive in time to help teach the HIV/AIDS seminars.
Most everyone else had an uneventful arrival, though some have been sitting in JFK airport since 5 a.m. while others rolled in much more recently after a night of wild NYC night (Blair). Our team is very excited — if not for the 14 hours of flying and 8 hours of bus rides that lay ahead of us, then for our first good night’s sleep on what is to all of us, a new continent.
As airports are largely unexciting, this is all there is to be said right now, aside from a strongly worded statement denouncing the evils of overpriced airport food that I am struggling not to write. So for the moment, I will leave off. Our next post will be written from Africa.
Cameroon, here we come.
Today is May 4, 2014 and in exactly 47 days we are departing for our Nourish summer project in Fundong, Cameroon!
That’s nice…. but who is “we”?
We are Blair, Kalie, Cat, Kacey, Alec, Sameen, Elliot and Chrisi, a group of 8 engaged Nourish students from the Claremont Colleges and the surrounding area, trying to empower communities, fight extreme poverty, and learn a little about ourselves along the way.
Sounds like a swell gang, but what are you planning to do in Fundong?
This summer, we are partnering with Better Family Foundation, a local NGO based in Fundong, Cameroon. BFF’s mission is to “provide free education, training, counseling, and financial aid to all families in need so that they may gain access to the tools they need to improve their lives.”
In Fundong, we will collaborate with BFF to implement two projects over seven weeks. The first is developing sustainable, safe water infrastructure, which includes constructing a water system and training a self-governed Water Management Committee. The second project is designing and leading sexual reproduction, HIV/AIDS, and other STI seminars. These seminars will be targeted to two marginalized groups, orphans and young widows, with the overall goal of a reduction in the incidence of HIV infections among these high-risk groups.
Man oh man that sounds like quality stuff! But are y’all prepared for this undertaking?
Boy, are we. We have spent weeks in training, learning about the cultural, historical, and sociopolitical circumstances within Cameroon, as well as educating ourselves about key HIV/AIDS information. We’re even planning to practice digging a hole or two to perfect the art of digging before we depart.
Wow, that sounds grand! I can’t wait to hear about the progress of your project!
Stay tuned, we’ll be updating this blog with our project adventures, trials and tribulations and all sorts of fun photos starting mid-June.
Coming at you with Peace&Love,
Claremont Chapter & Friends.
THE FINAL BLOG POST:
Okay, everyone; the project is done (it has been for a while), we’re home alive and safe (albeit injured), and it’s time for one last blog post, cuz you all deserve it…
So What Exactly Did We Do Again?
We did kind of a lot of things on the ground, so we don’t really blame you if you can’t remember it all or don’t even try to keep track of all that stuff. We can hardly remember ourselves! So we decided to create a small, handy, week-by-week overview of all the stuff we did on our project. See below:
Week 1: Arrival, BFF meetings, attend funeral, begin work on water project.
Week 2: Continue work on water project, begin volunteering at orphanage, attend community leader meeting at local politician’s house, begin planning and preparing for marriage seminar, meet Egyptian volunteer Abdallah, set up for marriage seminar, marriage seminar begins.
Week 3: Marriage seminar continues, attend child sponsor meeting, interviewed by local radio station, visit hospital, travel to nearby city of Bamenda, daytrip to Lake Oku (crater lake) and tea plantation/nature conservatory.
Week 4: Prepare and paint BFF office front room, assist with materials for future nutrition seminar, attend traditional Kom wedding ceremony, meeting about youth workshop, visit Fahn (local royalty) at palace.
Week 5: Set up and begin youth workshop, assist neighbors in making Cameroonian breakfast.
Week 6: Visit hospital again, finish youth workshop, meet owners of the house we are staying in (Dennis and Rose), water project completion ceremony in neighboring town of Alim, edit workshop manual, birthday party for Nathalie, travel to Limbe, stay with Dennis and Rose in other house, get transported to airport, depart.
Ring a bell? Yeah, didn’t think so.
Reflections/What We Think We Did:
So the project was pretty awesome. We completed so much more than we were expecting to accomplish: painting and the orphanage just kind of happened, and we had no idea how many close personal connections we would eventually come to make in the community. Our expected outcomes were also pretty amazing: the water project, despite a few setbacks, was successful, and both the marriage seminar and youth workshop seemed to get a very important conversation about sex and STIs rolling.
Through our work at the orphanage, we hope we were able to provide a brief couple of weeks of entertainment for the children; we certainly learned a lot from them, and they certainly made our experience so much more full of laughter and joy. For a “tangible” benefit here, ask Atika about her foot! (Okay, maybe not an obvious benefit, but it was a story we will remember forever, and it did allow for a few extra laughs down the line). Through our work painting the office and helping with materials for future workshops, we hope we were able to help BFF tackle all the important issues it is hoping to address within the Fundong community; even with this small work, we hope we were able to improve the image of their organization and better communicate their intentions to the community at large (Tangible Benefit: painted walls, laminated foods). Through our work at the water project, we hope we were able to help an important task reach completion; although our “tangible” outcomes—the pathetic physical work we contributed—are minor in this project on a personal/individual level, the fact that we were able to assist in some way and show that we support the community at least on an ideological level—we were risking enduring blisters on our lovely hands for them!—provides a much greater benefit: the continuation of a cross-cultural conversation and sentiment of friendship and understanding between our community and theirs. Lastly, in the seminar and workshop, we “tangibly” distributed packets with important information and “tangibly” spent more than two weeks in a classroom discussing these issues, but a more important outcome is again the continuation of this dialogue of global health, healthy and caring relationships, and solidarity against STIs and the HIV/AIDS epidemic that affects us all. Intangible benefits > tangible benefits, period.
The food, the hospitality, the transportation, the project, the laughs, the pictures, the arguments, the injuries: it was all so wonderfully overwhelming and fun and new. Fundong has become a sort of second home for us, and we all would go back or repeat the experience in a heartbeat if offered the chance. To give an accurate written account that fully captures this experience and our lives spent over that six weeks is impossible, not to mention the innumerable benefits—both tangible and intangible—possibly gained on either side of the BFF-Nourish relationship. Therefore, I will leave it at that. If you want us to attempt to describe it to you in conversation, I’m guessing you’ll probably have the same amount of luck. Rather, see how this experience has changed us as people and in the way we act in day-to-day life; let us tell you about this experience and all of its benefits and complexities through our actions and transformed worldviews, rather than through words that can never do it justice.
Last Monday, we finally got the chance to travel to the mystical land of Bamenda! Bamenda is the region capital of the Northwest (you may remember reading about it before – we passed through it as we travelled from Douala to Fundong at the beginning). There have been so many instances in the last couple of weeks where we ask a question and the response is, “ooh, you can’t get that here – but you can in Bamenda.” So the anticipation was building as we planned our trip. Bamenda is usually about 2 hours away by taxi, so we planned to leave early Monday morning. Unfortunately, Morgan got some type of bug bite on her foot that was really painful, so we stopped by the Fundong hospital to get it checked out. She ended up getting a lot of pills and a shot, so we got on the road around 11am. It was a really an interesting experience because there were 7 of us plus the driver. Now, in the US, that would automatically mean that we would need two cars. However, as you have probably guessed by this point, here we only needed one car. And it was a little car. So, to do that, we had the four of us in the back plus two full-grown men in the passenger seat, and Alina, a Peace Corps Volunteer in a neighboring town, sharing a seat with the driver (this is called the “petit chauffeur;” I had the honor of riding petit chauffeur when we went to Lake Oku – since all of the cars here are clutches, whenever they shift into second, it is supremely painful). We switched taxis several times (finally, for the last one, Alina just laid across us in the backseat – I think it worked pretty well, although, Mom, if you’re reading this, I promise it was perfectly safe!). So, we finally arrived around 1:30 in Bamenda. We stopped at this delicious fair trade store. It was a two-part store, one of which was a café and one which was a gift shop. The food was so delicious – I got a Greek salad and a mango/banana smoothie, and it was so delicious. It was all made fresh and organic (granted, it took us an hour to get the order, but it was definitely worth it). While we waited, we bought all of the gifts we needed in the shop next door – they had masks and baskets and figurines and jewelry and everything. I won’t go into too much detail since some of you reading this I’m sure will be recipients of said gifts, but it was definitely a neat shop! After that, we proceeded to the fabric market. Let’s just say that it was overwhelming. Imagine walking into an entire street where every open front is just filled with at least 50 different fabrics, and then you have to go find the ones you want and haggle for good prices. It’s a tricky business and overwhelming, but luckily Alina was there to help us, and she’s something of a pro (she’s already had probably around 10 dresses made here). It’s awesome because the fabric isn’t too expensive, and then you can go and get it tailored into WHATEVER you want (as I’m writing this, we’re trying on some dresses/pants we had made, and Morgan is even making a romper!) for only about 2000 CFA ($4). It’s wonderful! So, after dragging everyone through that for a while, we made it to the supermarket (we got more oatmeal, chocolate, juice, jam, and more chocolate (Snickers, Twix, dark chocolate x 3, etc.). It was a store of wonders! After that, it was raining a lot, but we walked over to the outdoor market. As we were walking, I was next to Stephen and Alina, and a man walked up and asked how much we would be. I was shocked, but Stephen was good at handling it. He said that we would be 50,000,000 CFA for the two of us (and it is 500 CFA for $1, so that is a lot a lot of money). We teased him a lot that he was willing to sell us for that, but he assured us that if the man had actually paid, he would have hired a mini force to come and rescue us and still have money left over to spare, so we accepted it.
The outdoor market was huge and with so much variety! There was lettuce and zucchini and green beans and eggplant and ginger and all of these other goodies. It was really neat! Afterwards, it was already getting late and dark (and it was still raining – a woman offered me a small plastic bag to wear on my head to keep my hair dry!), so we knew it was time to head back. Instead of taking a taxi, we got into an 8-person bus (which, of course, actually held 17 people – it was a fun ride back) and got back to Fundong around 10pm. When we got back, we were dedicated and we came back to the house and made up a lovely pasta dish. All in all, it was a fun adventure to Bamenda, and very productive! We’re now all really excited to make some clothes, to have all of our shopping done (because while it was fun, we’re all definitely excited to be done buying things), to have some new delicious goodies to eat, and more.
After seeing how excited we were on that trip, I think it’s safe to say that we will be more grateful now for some of the perks in the US that we don’t even think about, like being able to by oatmeal and chocolate in a store and being able to find a wide variety of fresh vegetables anywhere. But we’re absolutely loving our little town of Fundong and our adventures into Cameroon at large!
I’ll also put out a little RIP for my dog, Fritz, who I discovered 2 days ago died while I’m here in Cameroon. I love you and miss you, Fritzy!
PS – we apologize for the lack of pictures thus far! It isn’t that we aren’t taking a lot of high quality pictures, let me assure you, but instead the fact that we don’t have reliable internet access, so often our attempts to upload the photos ends in failure. But we’re working on it, slowly but surely!
The bride scooping palm oil
Well, now we’ve been to both a traditional Kom funeral and a traditional Kom wedding.
I think we all liked the wedding more.
So, it all started like this: Simon had some friends who were getting married and who were holding their traditional Kom wedding in the near future; he invited us to attend and we accepted (of course). The night prior to the festivities, we had stayed at Stephen’s house after having a giant Mexican food dinner with Stephen, Alina, our new Peace Corps friend, Eric—we had met him the night before at his going away party where we had a great dinner of fried fish, mayo, pepper sauces, and fermented cassava root—, and five Peace Corps trainees who were shadowing our other Peace Corps acquaintances for a few days.
Anyway, on the morning of June 27, we all gathered at the office (the four of us from Nourish, Stephen, and Abdallah), got changed, and hopped on some motorcycle taxis—with helmets, too! Don’t worry parents/guardians…
After about a half hour of bumpy roads on motorcycles and a short walk, we were there. The wedding was in a small town called Abuh a little ways uphill from Fundong. We were greeted almost immediately by Simon, who escorted us into the house with all the food and drinks—and Rose and Ignatius were there, too! We all had a great rice stew and then went back outside to the scene of the marriage. We found our seats and marked them, and then we were invited into another house to watch a part of the ceremony where the groom and the father-in-law shared a drink out of the same cup. After that, we went back outside, and then Abdalah and I (Luke) were directed into yet another building for another part of the ceremony.
This was probably the most interesting part of the marriage; it took place in the traditional kitchen—a dark, straw-roofed building with a large cauldron in the middle of the floor—and was mostly for the female relatives of the bride. In this part of the ceremony, the bride scooped up handfuls of palm oil and put them into bowls to mix with the wedding chicken. Her bridesmaids, or at least the Kom equivalent of bridesmaids, also dressed her in bead garments in one corner of the kitchen. Then, she walked out of the kitchen—and so did Abdallah and I.
We were then back at the main tent; we took our seats and waited. First, a giant roasted chicken was brought out and placed on a palm leaf in front of the guests. A man with a machete started chopping it up, and then it was taken off—I guess to be mixed with the palm oil the bride had just finished scooping. A little while later, Ignatius was going around the feast with a bowl full of the chicken bits seeped in palm oil—and when I say “seeped,” I mean seeped. It was really good, and I was lucky enough to score two pieces, but my hands were stained orange for the rest of the day. When Ignatius ran out of chicken, he started to pass out fried peanuts, which were also great—I got two helpings of those as well…
Then, the women involved in the ceremony—the wife included—came out in a line, hunched over and quiet. They eventually sat down in chairs in front of the guests, and then the wife was interviewed about her personal information in front of everyone (questions like “what is your family name?” and things like that…it was in Kom, so we didn’t exactly know what they were saying…). There was some singing, and then everyone started dancing in a circle. A lot of people ended up dancing, and even Rose, Simon’s wife—who had made fun of us for the way we dance and said that she “didn’t know how to dance”—went into the circle! Morgan also joined and blended in like a pro.
After the dancing, there was a sack of corn given to the father of the groom. There was another sack of corn that was given to the guests; people came up with bowls and scooped some of the corn out. Then, there were huge blocks of fufu corn handed around (with jamba-jamba, of course), and people ate.
By then, the ceremony was pretty much over; people had danced, sung, ate, drank, and watched, and it was time to make the trek back to Fundong.
In the process of heading home, we all stopped at a few places, met up with some friends, and made some new acquaintances. We then got a car ride home from a very generous gentleman and got home well after dark. We made some very very mediocre pasta (cabbage + pasta = not so popular in our house), the girls watched Pitch Perfect, popcorn was popped, and everyone went to bed.
So there you have it, folks; another great, adventure-filled day here in Cameroon! Expect to read about a few others in the near future: We have crater lakes! We have chimps! We have tea plantations! We have Bamenda! We have danger (kind of)! We have paint!
Hello again, everyone! Sorry for the torrent of recent blog posts, but we’ve had a couple of relatively free days this weekend for the first time, so we’re trying to catch up! Our projects are all going well and we’re having a lot of fun here at the house (as you’ve read in the other posts!), but we’ve also had a bit of a chance to keep ourselves busy with several other adventures outside of our projects. We had two big trips (we went to Bamenda, the region capital, to complete a bit of shopping and to see the city, and then we also went on a day hike on motorbike (and foot) to a crater lake, a tea plantation, and finally some place we played with monkeys! These were our two big trips that we have in between our projects, but we’ll devote a whole post to those later on. This post is instead about some of the random small things that have been going on outside of our projects…
So, when our Cameroonian friend Hilary told us that we could walk to a waterfall in 10 minutes, it’s safe to say I was skeptical. I was expecting one of those miniscule “waterfalls” that is really just a stream that drops down a couple of feet. So as we winded our way through the streets of Fundong (many stores, curious children, the mosque, and an underground hotel along the way), none of us were expecting to come across this site.
Here we had some fun climbing down a steep and muddy hill. Abdallah, another volunteer who recently arrived from Egypt, was with us and successfully slid down most of the hill.
One of our more unique cultural experiences so far was a burial that we attended at a place uphill from our house. This was on our first Sunday in Cameroon. Simon, the director at BFF and our neighbor here in Ngwainkuma, is a pastor and took us to the Full Gospel church service with them in the morning, and afterwards everyone was heading up to the funeral. We climbed through personal cornfields and steep, muddy inclines to finally get to the top. We originally felt a little out of place since we did not know the man who was killed at all. As it turned out, however, that isn’t an odd occurrence at these burials. In fact, many of the people whom we talked to also did not know the man who had died: the entire surrounding community would just come to show support for and respect towards the grieving family. When we arrived, we saw a group of men carrying the casket in and set it down on a well-decorated table. People were sitting all around, some on benches and some on crates that were around the side; many others were merely milling in a large crowd. Some men pried open the casket, and people gathered around to look at the body (not including us). The grief was displayed in a much more raw and emotional way, and it was a very powerful experience. There was a woman who was chanting and yelling with a large wooden pole who was dancing to ward off the rain until the burial was done (we asked what would happen if it did rain, but they said that wouldn’t happen (and indeed, it didn’t rain until right after the burial was completed).
Falling for Cameroon
On the last day that our friends Joe and Rodrigue were in town, we all decided to meet in the evening right after dinner to celebrate. As it is the rainy season here in Cameroon, we decided to call some motorbikes, our most common method to travel relatively long distances, to take us into town instead of walking the 30-minute, water-puddle-ridden, dark road. We loaded onto the bikes, Morgan and Luke on one and Atika and I on the other. We were winding down the roads when our bike began to pick up speed. If you haven’t picked up on the foreshadowing yet, our bike slid on a slick patch and fell over: our first (and hopefully last!) motorbike accident. Luckily, the road was muddy instead of concrete, but that definitely didn’t stop the bike from landing on us. Atika spun off the back of the bike and rolled a bit, landing on her side and hand, while I fell under the bike a bit and hit my leg and arm. After the initial surprise, we rolled over, took one look at one another in our previously-nice-now-mud-doused clothing and burst out laughing. Luke and Morgan’s bike pulled up and saw us. As they saw us laughing, they joined in the fun and took some lovely pictures. We hobbled back on the bike (now with increased skepticism) and finished the drive back. Stephen was pretty upset about it, but we found some buckets full of rainwater and washed off the worst of the mud and blood from our skin (unfortunately, there was no hope for our clothing at that point, so we definitely got some funny stares that night). Luckily, we spent that night at Stephen’s house, and Stephen has a lovely shower complete with hot water, so that was our one consolation. Luckily we are improving each day; we both managed to mess up our wrists a bit, making us a bit less useful at the water project, but luckily it was time to turn our attention to the marriage seminar, so we had good timing at least!
Still falling for Cameroon…
We have begun going to the Fundong orphanage a couple of times of week as a side project to just play and read with the children. The first time we went, Alena, Joe, Hilary, and Rodrique were all with us. All of the children were so much fun, and we were all stumbling around, playing Sharks and Minnows, Red Light Green Light, and soccer (until that is, we popped the ball). The outside was muddy enough that none of us got through the hour of play without wiping out spectacularly (except for Luke; to make up for it, we carried out a version of our Pomona fountaining tradition and threw him into the mud – this was a celebration of the fact that, that day, he received his bag that had been lost on the airplane!).
Alright, so we have been eating pretty well here in Fundong. I think Luke wrote about our own cooking adventures, so I’ll instead write about some of our others eating out. Perhaps the most classic dish here is Fufu. Fufu is a lot like polenta, perhaps a bit less grainy and a little thicker. It is eaten with huckleberry leaves and, if you’re lucky (or, rather, if others are lucky – I’m vegetarian), with chicken (called kata-kata, but you have to do it with this special emphasis that is CAHtà – CAHtà). Luke absolutely loves this, I like it, and Morgan and Atika will eat it when needed, but they aren’t huge fans.
However, there is one food that we are all huge fans of: BEANS AND PUFF-PUFF (or at least puff-puff, in the case of Morgan – she has a fear of beans and a very funny story to explain why, if you ever get the chance to ask her about it). Puff-puffs are essentially just fried pieces of dough (like a beignet, but without any sugar) that a lady serves every afternoon, starting around 3 or 4, with delicious beans. Stephen buys one every evening as a little snack, and we have quickly adopted that eating schedule. Absolutely delicious.
Ok, we have to get off to work soon – we need to finish up a bit of laundry before going up to the BFF office to work on washing the walls before we paint them (it’s a pretty new office and we’re going to paint it for them – it should be fun!). Then we’re going to the orphanage later on today.
I hope you’re all doing well! I know we’re all having a blast!
On June 17th, Better Family Foundation’s Marriage Seminar began. It lasted four days. This program was offered to married couples that wished to learn how to “improve family life and society, become [crusaders] for good family life and HIV/STIs in the community, and learn how to manage one’s family well” (Expectations created by the participants). There were many people that applied for the program, so we had to turn some away. Along with couples, there were 10 teachers accepted so that they could take the information that they learned back to their villages and spread knowledge about marriage and sex. It was very exciting to see that so many people were interested in openly speaking and learning about sex because that is pretty much taboo here.
Our role in this seminar was less involved than it will be for the youth seminar (10-20 years old). We observed and took notes each day, and we provided information about different cultural practices and beliefs in the United States regarding marriage and sex. The newest volunteer here at BFF, Abdallah, chimed in about what marriage and sex is like in Egypt, where he is from.
Having this seminar about two weeks before the youth seminar (which starts July 4th!) is really helpful for us, because it has given us an idea of how to teach and improve our seminar.
Generally, this is what the day looked like:
From 8:00-8:30, people would arrive. The seminar did not actually start until 9:00, but the BFF members expected that people would arrive late. Around 10:45, the couples would have a 15-minute break. From 1:00-2:00, there was a break for lunch. Rose made the food for around 45 people! For two of the days, she made fufu, and the other two days, she made rice with a tomato sauce/stew and some meat. The seminar ended around 4:00-4:30, and we would have a meeting after to talk about what went well and what did not that day until about 5:00.
The seminar took place at the Divine Lodge Hotel. We set up tables and chairs the Sunday before the seminar started.
Today, the seminar was scheduled to start at 8:00 am, so we arrived at the hotel at 7:00 am. First, one of the BFF members, Emmanuel, had everyone introduce themselves, then two people were given roles as the time keeper and note taker. Someone volunteered to lead the prayer and another person started singing a song (This happened every day).
Side note: Another thing that happened every day, which seemed to bring people together were the different claps we had every time someone finished presenting. There was one clap where people rubbed their hands together and with their right hand, sliding off the left hand, they directed the clap to the presenter.
Emmanuel spoke about the rules and expectations for the seminar, which included things like: “Show hand before you answer a question, active participation, and no sleeping.”
We talked about what marriage is and how in Cameroon, it occurs when a man and woman love each other, while in America, one would describe marriage as something that happens when two people love each other. Also, in Cameroon, polygyny can be practiced.
The couples and teachers participated in many activities. In the first activity, the men and women were split up into groups and were asked to write down the roles of women and men in their society. In the second activity, the men and women were again split, and they wrote down what they liked and disliked about the opposite sex (for all of these activities, they had someone from each team present). In another activity, women and men present about the duties of husbands and wives.
At our meeting after, Morgan commented that she did not like how in each activity, women were put in a more negative, weaker light than men. Simon said that by the end of the fourth day, their goal was to change this view, but they could not immediately tell the participants that their views were “wrong.” For example, when the women and men were ready to present, Simon asked, “Who will present first?” People responded (women included), “Men, because they are superior. Women should follow.” Simon then said, “No, women go first.” (Nathalie, Morgan, and I cheered, which also shows a cultural difference).
Today, the seminar was scheduled to start at 8:30. The participants had homework from yesterday. They were split up into four groups of men and women and asked to create sketches/skits of normal arguments that happen in the home between man and wife. So, today, the seminar started with the groups presenting their sketches. The first one, for example, presented a man giving his wife money to buy ingredients for his dinner. When the husband leaves, the wife takes the bulk of the money to buy clothes for a friend who came by saying she needed more money. The wife uses the remaining money to buy food, of a lower quality, for her husband. When he comes back home to have his dinner, he is angry and yells at the wife for not doing what he told her to do with the money. In another skit, a fight breaks out between husband and wife and neighbors come over to help/see what the commotion is about. We talked about the cultural differences here and how in Fundong, each community member is everyone else’s keepers, while in the States, generally people’s business in the home does not extend to people outside of the home.
We had 3 hours of free time (1 hour for lunch and 2 hours for free HIV testing in the hotel). After, Emmanuel spoke about menstruation.
For most of the day, Esther, another BFF member, spoke about violence and rape. Mainly, (though they did briefly say that it way not always the case, she spoke about the male being the attacker. She asked the participants what they thought husbands and wives could do to prevent violence in the home. For husbands they said, “Be peaceful, submit, provide needs, and know your wife.” For wives they said, “prepare good food, know your husband, dialogue, and love husband” among other things. They also discussed the causes of violence. This topic is very important, so it was nice that BFF devoted the day to discussing its problems and possible solutions.
Eunice, who is another BFF member, taught about family planning. Just an interesting comment that one participant had…She said that when she was younger, someone told her that if you sleep with a boy, you can drink something after to kill the sperm. To continue, the participants talked about the duties of the family and then the importance of sex in marriage. It was really cool to see how the people developed throughout the seminar. On the first day, sex was brought up once, which was already a huge surprise for BFF members, since talk about this topic is so hidden in this community. Another day, there was an activity where men and women split into groups and wrote down what husbands and wives did at every hour of the day. Instead of saying “sex,” they would say “first, second, and third round.” By the last day, the participants were very involved in the conversation of sex, which was a great accomplishment. Simon spoke about the sensitive organs in men and women and how to prepare for sex, which provoked a very lively, amusing conversation (with pictures taken by Luke).
At the beginning and end of the seminar, Simon said that we must “break the silence.” Now we hope that it will become a topic that more people will be interested in and open to talking about with each other and their children, so that the silence surrounding sex will remain broken.
A hill wrapped in mist, vibrantly green with a path of red earth torn through it. Scraggly trees dot the ridges and folds of the hill, cows with massive horns munch placidly on grass, and the occasional goat bounds bleatingly into the bushes as you pass. Streams weave their way from the top of the mountain down to the foot, but you would not know that water passed there except for the thick tangle of undergrowth that weaves around the water, marking its passage with a deeper hue of green. In the morning, the sun alights cheerily on the landscape with its small villages tucked into the surrounding hills like an English pastoral scene (except the houses are made of corrugated metal and mud). But by afternoon, the whole hill side is wrapped in clouds and rain falls, in small plops at first, that quickly gather themselves resoundedly to bombard the red earth, our skin, and the lucky few who remembered to bring raincoats. This, then, is where we spent our first week in Cameroon working on the water project.
Part of the money we raised this past year went towards a water project that Better Family Foundation (aptly abbreviated to BFF) has been putting together between three villages in the area. There is a spring at the top of the aforementioned hill that the organization determined to harness and use to bring water to the villages of Alim, Bougie, and Ameng. Before, people in the area would either have to walk several kilometers carrying jugs to various springs in the area or rely on unsanitary wells for their water, but with BFF’s eighth water project in the area, they will now be able to pull clean, filtered water from standing pipes much closer to the villages. To do this project, they performed a feat of logistics: mapping out with string and rough calculations the path the pipes would take down the hill, buying the pipes, connectors, glue, concrete, and rocks needed to make the projection an actuality, and mobilizing the people of three villages through the good, old-fashioned mechanism of word of mouth to dig a many kilometer path (a foot and a half deep thorough out) down a steep hillside to three separate villages. While we helped financially support the project, we really just came in for the final push of physically carrying it out. As we discovered when we arrived, the real work of the project was carried out before we got here by BFF, who performed an organizational miracle in the minds of four American kids.
Three moments and people that should be shared—
Joe and Rodrigue: A Peace Corps volunteer borrowed from South Cameroon and Colorado, Joe came to the Northwest to film the water project and create a video for BFF to put on their website and extend awareness. Joe brought with him a friend, his neighbor, Rodrigue, a South Cameroonian boy who became one of our closest friends here, despite his tendency to speak French (or maybe because of that). Grandpa Joe, as he was known, was apt to wander off the only trail, cutting through the forest into the wilderness for several hours, black mambas be damned. He enjoyed using his lanky frame to climb trees and launch himself (after a sufficient running start) into a mud puddle at top speed to gently knock unsuspecting volunteers’ feet out from underneath them. Rodrigue liked to take a running start to pile on top of these no-longer-quite-so-unsuspecting, mud-drenched volunteers. He was an avid fan of the Backstreet Boys’ popular ‘90s song, I Want It That Way, and unfalteringly tried to teach us how to dance in the graceful yet energetic Cameroonian fashion and not like epileptic Americans. I can only say that the work is still in progress.
Simon and Rose: The director of BFF, Simon is always there when you need him, whether it be to insert a thoughtful, humorous, and elucidating remark into a potentially tense moment developing at the marriage seminar or pulling up in a car beside you as you’re five minutes into the twenty-five minute walk into town and it begins to rain (as just happened not an hour ago). His wife, Rose, has accompanied us on many a car journey, walk to the bar, and sermon at the church. She runs a mattress store across the street from BFF’s office, supervises the construction of a new kitchen to their house (the wall of the old one just fell down), and keeps her house fastidiously tidy, while still managing to find time last week to cook a meal each day for fifty people at the marriage seminar. The first day on the water project when Nathalie and I were covered in mud from digging in the dirt around the spring and we had not managed, after vigorous scrubbing, to remove the mud encrusted on our skin, she clambered down into the trench with us and proceeded to wash us in the water, much as a mother washes her child.
The older woman with the shovel:
The last day that we went to the project (the Friday a week ago… we’re a bit behind with the blog posts), I had offered to help a couple women covering the pipe up, when above me I heard in a yell, “Young girl! Why you no come up here and help me?” When I turned to look, I could see an elder woman waving a shovel in the air and the younger women around her giggling. With a grin, I walked up the hill and went to help her on her section, shoveling the piles of dirt and grass torn up to put the pipe down back over the pipe. I cannot claim to be much of a hand at the work for I hadn’t quite conquered the technique behind shoveling the mounds of heavy soil back into the earth without dislodging much of the hillside above it, but finally the work was done. As the afternoon rain began to fall, she turned to me with a wizened smile, and proposed to me on behalf of her son. “Then you can come work for me on my farm!” she proclaimed with a friendly cackle. “Because once you are married, you must work for your mother-in-law. And I want you on my farm!” Politely but a little frantically, I proclaimed myself betrothed to another. “Ah, we’ll see!” she said, and then, still wheezing with laughter, she walked off down the hill. So I guess we’ll see. There might still be a mother-in-law and a farm in my future. I can only just hope that it won’t be in Iowa.
It goes against custom for us foreigners to help physically with such work as this, Stephen, our Peace Corps contact in the area, told us, because as we provided the money, it is for them to make their contribution to the project by providing the physical labor. But on hearing from us that we would really like to work for the project in a physical way, he smoothed the way for this exception to the rule. So since we asked for it, work we did. Along with over a hundred people who turned out from the villages, we helped dig out a chamber for the spring, place rocks within the chamber to work as a first filter for the water, and pour concrete over the whole shebang. Then we followed the path they tunneled for several kilometers through the earth, helping further dig it out to the depth of a foot and a half. Rocks, roots, and cornfields were dislodged in the process. Later, Nathalie and Luke carried up rocks to a second filter chamber located ¾ of the way up the hill, while I helped the plumber, Johnson, lay down pipes and connect them with super glue. Then we pulled the earth we’d piled up back into the trench, so that in the end, a red brown path (nestling pipes carrying precious water) wove down the hillside. Throughout, the villagers greeted our help with enthusiasm, gratitude, and not a little bit of amusement. In a tacit way or maybe a projected one, I felt that they would hand over shovels as though they were humoring our eccentricity, they who could tear a path of meters in the time we could shovel a fraction of the debris. But they humored us with humor (and marriage proposals), so we felt very well received.
There was a point sometime on the first day, probably in between my thirtieth and thirty-first hand pumping by an excited villager that I understood—really understood—what we’d accomplished this past year. It amazed me and yet shamed me that a spare hobby back in Claremont could accomplish so much, could mean so much to people a continent away from us. Each day, they would wake up as early as the sun and climb the steep hill and break the earth and lay down pipe until the rain fell and thank us, again and again, with handshakes and gap-toothed smiles and the chattering of a language we couldn’t understand, for bringing water to their villages. I felt then, the strength of microfinance, of each of the small events that we held, each pastry we sold while thinking of the paper we had to write, each beseeching fundraising letter we wrote, all so casually, with no idea of how much the small work we did could mean to people we hadn’t yet met. I think I speak for all of us when I say that it was inspiring, heart-warming and not a little bit humbling to be greeted with such warmth and to lay shovel to earth in such a place with such a group of people and feel that this at least was something Real and something Worthwhile.
As the title obviously suggests, this post will deal with the miscellaneous goings-on within our household here in Ngwainkuma, Cameroon. This will hopefully be closely followed (or preceded) by three other, long-overdue blog posts from our team.
1. The House
I am not really sure how much you all know about our living situation here; we are living in one half of an awesome house owned by a politician named Dennis. The place is huge, and we have a dining room, a living room, a kitchen, a hallway, two bathrooms, and two bedrooms. Despite the many bugs and spiders we found upon arrival (we have a feeling Dennis hasn’t been home for a while…), the house is extremely elegant—palatial even. Ngwainkuma, the town we’re living in, is also super nice; it is kind of like a hilltop suburb of Fundong, the regional capital city where we work and hang out, and it is full of really nice, big houses/compounds. However, the only place we really go in Ngwainkuma is a bar owned by Dennis’s little brother, Ignatius; for everything else, we take the 25-minute walk/10-minute car or motorcycle ride into Fundong. So yeah, we live in a nice house in a quiet/nice/safe neighborhood next to nice people. Not a bad start, eh?
2. What’s Cookin’, Good Lookin’?
We have been making some great food here (yeah, that’s right: us!), and we’d like to give you a list of scrumptious goodness so that you can eat vicariously through us. After getting food at the market daily (that should be mentioned in another blog post, I think…) we have made the following ~delicious~ meals:
-Spaghetti with homemade sauce
-Cous-cous with veggies
-Burrito bowl (with homemade salsa AND slices of these really huge avocadoes that don’t really look like avocadoes on the outside but are actually avocadoes that are about the size of a Mr. Potato Head toy and taste really good)
-Crêpes (both savory and sweet)
-Vegetable curry over potatoes
-Awesome bananas (okay, we didn’t really make these, but we put them in stuff…)
-Oatmeal with bananas (see?!) and vanilla sugar
-Cinnamon-sugar toast on honey bread
-Fufu (a soft, warm ball of really finely ground corn starch that is served pretty much everywhere) with bitter leaves and small, dried fish*
*Okay, actually made by our friend Hilary; we had no idea how to prepare bitter leaves (still not entirely sure why they were purchased in the first place…). Apparently you have to clean them, chop them, scrub them until this soapy-looking stuff comes out of them, and then boil them with veggies and dried up pieces of little, salty fish.
3. “My Eyes!”
On a related note, there are these little, tiny peppers that people call “pepé.” We use these peppers to spice up our food (and our lives). Before ever using the pepés, Stephen, our Peace Corps friend, told us to be very careful with them; they are spicy little buggers, and if one gets them anywhere near his/her eyes, one will not be a happy chef. Anyway, I (Luke) cut the pepés the first night (June 13). I washed my hands seriously like five times after the chopping, we ate our flavorful dinner, and everything seemed fine—it wasn’t. I was feeling kind of tired, ya know, and I felt like, ya know, rubbing my eyes a little bit with my (supposedly) clean, pepé-free hands. Well, things got bad—ya know? My eyes burned like a thousand scorching suns; I could not open my eyes without wanting to rip them out to stop this very unpleasant new feeling: “anything, anything, please! Anything to stop the pain!” The end seemed near for my already-less-than-precious eyes. However, out of the mist, like angels from heaven, my three friends appeared, bearing gifts of Visene and wet rags (and also a camera to kindly document the experience). After a good 20 minutes of shouting and eye-prying (ever seen A Clockwork Orange?), my eyes were miraculously saved! I can see yet again!*
*Pepés are now handled with extreme care; we have had some other close encounters with their dangers but have not seen another incident of this magnitude.
We often lose electricity at night when it rains. Our house also had an electrical issue for a while, but we got it fixed.
There was a light switch in our house that unkindly electrocuted the person attempting to operate it. Atika and I were victims. My finger still hurts. We made a duct tape warning sign. Our friend Hilary fixed it. There is no more warning sign.
6. Nighttime Movies/Shows
Some nights, we get popcorn and watch movies on our laptops! So far, we have seen: 5 episodes of Malcolm in the Middle, In Bruges, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Almost Famous.
7. Toilet Troubles
One of our toilets is broken, and we have no idea what to do about it. Johnson, the plumber, is supposed to come fix it, but that hasn’t exactly happened yet.
8. Ever seen that episode of Seinfeld…
We have no hot water in our house (unless we boil it first). This means cold showers if you’re too lazy to boil water for a shower (which we usually are). The novelty wore off after about the first three days. Cold showers. That’s probably something I won’t miss when I get back home…
We’ve had guests over to our house twice now to have a party! The first time was with our new Peace Corps friends (Stephen, Joe, John, and Alina) and our new Cameroonian friends (Simon, Rose, Hilary and Rodrique). At that party, Stephen made a delicious curry over rice, we danced, and we were merry. Our second get-together was last night. We played card games with Hilary and the new Egyptian volunteer who is also working with BFF—our new friend Abdallah. We were merry then, too.
Stephen bought us two whole wheels of Vache Qui Rit “cheese” before we arrived. We have only been able to bring ourselves to eat one of them so far. We’re trying to give it away, but no one seems to want it…
We learned how to properly wash our clothes by hand last night! Our neighbor (and Simon’s niece) Blessing taught us how. We attempted to do this chore before, but judging from the moldy smell of the house, the musty smell of the clothes, and our refusal to wear many of the items we “cleaned,” we probably failed. We now know how to wash clothes using the floor of our deck, 2 buckets, and a wad of bar soap! Watch out, world; we’re gettin’ clean!
12. An Accidental Prison
One day, Atika was feeling sick and stayed home from work. Without really thinking about it, we locked the door of the house after ourselves as we were leaving. About eight hours later, we realized that the door can only be unlocked with the key, which we had! Atika had been trapped! For eight hours! In the house! By herself! We rushed back to save her from this accidental prison; however, when we got back and talked to Atika, we discovered that, for the entire day, she had never even tried to leave the house.
One night, as we were eating dinner with our friend Hilary, we heard a mysterious knock at the door. We answered. After a lot of drunken rambling (was it English? I’m still not sure…) and arm-grabbing and pointing, we discovered that it was a man named Lambert, who had washed our stairs and our shoes earlier that day. It was a little confusing, but thanks to Hilary’s translating, we found out he wanted money. We gave him some. We went back to dinner. However, minutes later, Lambert was back! He had just walked (drunkenly stumbled?) into our house… for what, we’re not exactly sure. Hilary kindly escorted him out. The next morning, we saw him in the car. Apparently we paid for his beer the night before… Nice to know your money’s being put to good use, eh? Well, hey; now we have a new friend named Lambert.
14. House of 1,000 Corpses
The night of June 21 began like any other. We had just finished dinner and were hanging out in our living room. It was lightly raining outside, and we were about to go out to see some friends. Then we saw them. At first, it was only a few; a couple large, four-winged bugs drifting into our living room. There was some light screaming and a rush to grab a flip-flop (flyswatter), but nothing too out of the ordinary. We killed them and were about to move on with our night. But then we saw the others! They were everywhere, in every room, near every light; these large, winged monsters were invading! They were throwing themselves at our windows from the outside, tearing their own wings off as they crawled through the cracks in the sill; anything to get closer to our living room light. There were hundreds in a frantic swarm on our front porch; others were flying around erratically in the house, bumping into us as we registered what was going on. We all grabbed weapons (flip-flops) and began the counterattack: We retaliated with force, swatting the bugs (easily killed with even the lightest touch) and diminishing their forces. But they kept coming! A battle plan was soon established; we moved into the kitchen and barricaded ourselves within this small, safe haven. We were to move throughout the house, systematically killing anything that got in our way, finding the points of entry and sealing them with duct tape. And that’s exactly what we did. We swept through the house, massacring these new enemies, sealing up windows and doors and clearing the area of any foreign invaders. After the house was reasonably secure, we called Stephen and asked him what was going on. He had no idea. We then got a visit from Abdallah, and he told us (as he learned from Simon) the truth: They were locusts! They come at night after the rain and look for light. Apparently, a lot of people here trap them with a light and a bucket of water so they can cook them and eat them. I’d like to try that sometime (what better way to celebrate a victory, eh?); we definitely had enough dead bugs on our floor to feed a small army…
Well, we are all still doing well; the house is looking a lot cleaner, and we are finally getting some laundry done. I’m currently at the office and am about to purchase goods for another amazing dinner: peanut noodles! Talk to you soon!