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.
June 11 was our last full day in Yaounde. We left to return to Oku early in the morning for an 8AM bus back towards Bamenda.
June 12 (Wed) was a day for travels – heading from Yaounde back to home base. We arrived back in Oku in the evening and started preparing for our next part of the project.
June 13 (Thurs) we went around a few parts of Oku to check on the gardens we began in the first week. At this point, we found out that Simonkoh’s garden was doing the best. I don’t have any good pictures of the seedlings right now, but hopefully I can add some later once I get them. The rest of the day was spent doing individual errands. Some went to buy souvenirs and others went to the market to say hello to friends. Then, we left for Batibo, our next project site. That night, we met the 1st deputy mayor and had dinner at his house.
On June 14 (Friday)- Batibo is also a city in the Northwest, but it is farther west than Oku. We stayed in Hotel Arena by the newly constructed paved road leading from Bamenda, and we took most of our meals from St. Stephen’s Restaurant. Our accommodations were relatively comfortable. Our pluming was reliable and the decor was fun (there was a night club attached), but the odd thing was that we didn’t have sinks in our bathrooms. We spent some time planning our route with the officials at the Batibo Municipal Council and starting on the demonstration gardens. We also met a Peace Corps volunteer who lived in the area and did a little garden by the council as well as some farther away. We had a relatively long way to travel, but the farthest village, Ashong-Batibo, was also my favorite. The people were very welcoming and the garden was on the side of a mountain, so the view was great when we arrived and it was foggy.
That night, we met up with some of CAMAAY’s other volunteers (from Germany). We went to a fundraiser held by local youths for an orphanage. They sold drinks and had a dance competition, so it was fun to support them.
(Fundraiser, photo cred = Aubrey)
June 15 (Sat), we held a discussion for sports animators in the same community hall as the fundraiser was held. It was also within walking distance of our hotel. Maxie agreed to do some more stretching demonstrations for the local groups the next morning. When we did go out to the garden spots around Batibo, we took another truck borrowed from the Council and went with our development guide, Naomi. We also did a few needs assessments and talked with groups around town. With the upcoming local elections, we went to an SDF rally to talk to people. That evening, we went to the mayor’s house for dinner.
June 16 (Sun) was a busy day. Maxie started earlier than all of us, heading to meet the sports group for their weekly meeting. We started the day with some more presentations. This time, we covered our main three- Violence Against Women, Group Dynamics, and Menstruation. At the final presentation, we were able to pass out some more of the reusable feminine hygiene kits to the heads of the “Girls’ Corners” (discussion and meeting groups for women and young girls in the area). Naomi cooked us a delicious lunch from the food we received from the people in Ashong – plantains and a chicken. We took the rest of the evening to see Batibo. One group went to check out a local tree nursery (riding 4 to a motorcycle!) and the rest of us went to the Guzong Market.
(Warm Up Demo by Maxie)
June 17 (Mon) we left Batibo with 8 gardens completed. We passed through Bamenda, but the goal was to head back to Oku and pack our bags and say our goodbyes to friends and officials before we took our last inspection through the city. We went to the radio station and Aubrey went to get photos for the school partnership project.
June 18 (Tues) we went back to Mbam-Oku to see the progress on the community center and do some last minute work at the tree nursery. It was great to see new paint and the bathrooms being built, but of course – there work was not all complete.
June 19 (Wed) I don’t think we did too much of anything. We also said our last goodbye in person to the mayor and people who helped us at the municipal council, and then took a bus to Bamenda. We were planning on stopping in Limbe, a coastal city with black sand beaches, on our way back to the Douala Airport. However, the bus we needed to take was overnight… so we had a lot of time to spare in Bamenda. Most used the internet, some made copies, and others needed the ATM. We even had a chance to say goodbye to some of CAMAAY’s German volunteers that were That evening, we were invited for dinner at the house of a local director of an NGO – one of our coordinator’s friends. It was nice seeing the inside of another home. After that, we took our bus to Oku.
June 20 (Thurs) we left our spot in Oku in the morning to travel to Bamenda. We spent most of the day in Bamenda, just chilling. Most used the internet, some made copies, and others needed the ATM. We went to a fair trade store for souvenirs and just ended up at the cafe next door. It was great. That evening, we were invited for dinner at the house of a local director of an NGO – one of our coordinator’s friends. It was nice seeing the inside of another home. After that, we took our night bus to Limbe. Just getting there was an experience… but not the most comfortable xD…
June 21 (Fri) we arrived in Limbe. It was a bit rainy, but we still trekked around. We stored our luggage at the bus station, and then hit the market, a local lava flow, the beach, and then the primate reserve with a good cafe inside. We were happy about the final stop. They even had vegetarian burgers… a great start to returning to the US. But we did have to say goodbye to everyone. After we took a bus from Limbe to Doaula, we went straight to the Airport… and then were on our way before we knew it!
Here’s a recap of our third week in Cameroon!
We spent some more time setting up some demo gardens in Lui-Oku, Elak-Oku, Simonkoh-Oku and did a presentation in Jigijem-Oku on seed saving along with a garden this week. We were also in Ibal-Oku and did a variety of community activities, plus horseback riding.
(Lui-Oku Garden — what a trek!!)
On the 7th of June, we had our International Youth Leadership Camp in the Elak-Oku Community Hall. All were welcome to come and discuss various topics such as community development, globalization, and youth participation. We also took the end of the gathering to distribute more of the Days for Girls menstruation kits.
But the highlights for this week involve the varying bouts of sickness we all passed around. It ranged from varying stages of nausea, diarrhea, and loss of appetite to endless vomiting and full-blown parasites. But for most cases, we were able to handle it with a first aid kit, medicine and good ol’ R&R. But it’s true – poor Maxie had to go to the local hospital and have an experience with the health care in a developing nation. She was held for a few days and treated for malaria (though, can’t tell if that was the final diagnosis).
(Maxie in the Elak-Oku hospital! Aww = photo cred. Grace)
And me (Ash) personally dealt with about a week of “mango worms,” fly larva lain on damp clothing and hatch under the skin. It was gross and varying degrees of itch and pain – if you are morbidly curious, Google it. This was all leading up to our trip to the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, to meet the Prime Minister! He hails from Oku, so he was interested in hearing about our projects. We met him in the morning at his office and then we dined together in the evening. It was all very interesting and surprisingly pleasant.
So, that covers up until about June 11, our last night in Yaounde.
Sorry for the delays in posting. This is an entry from the second week of the trip.
Written June 3 (Mon)… Week 2
Here’s to another week full of multiple projects. In fact, it’s going to take some serious concentration for me to recall everything that we’ve been up to in order, but I can say that this week was full of presentations, youth activities, demonstration gardens for the seed multiplication project, and preparation for our Youth Camp. For the most part, we follow a schedule, but honestly, the concept of time and punctuality is different here. Today, for example – we woke up to rain. It rained for hours, so we decided to delay our departure to the gardens in Simonkoh. We said “let’s leave between 11 and 12”… and we ended up leaving at 1:30 J
So, today (June 3) we sent two of the team members (the organic farmer, Joan and me –UNM’s student) out to Simonkoh village along with Castro (our guide from the local council here) and 7 interns from a university in Bamenda. The others stayed behind to work on preparations for the Youth Camp, as I said, and are now very excited. Once the two gardens with an elderly group and a women’s group were set up, the team returned back to Elak.
(Prep for the Youth Camp)
Yesterday (June 2), some of the group went to church, and in the afternoon we all went to the field near the Community Center in Elak and played several games with the kids here as part of CamAAY’s “All kids should play” campaign. We tried several things – from Duck Duck Goose to tag. But it was hilarious to watch the kids reverse the objective in tag… we tried teaching them, but there always seems to be a bit of a language barrier… so instead of running away from the person who was “it”, they all ran towards Aubrey. The throng of children tackling the lone “white man” was spectacular J It definitely reminded me more of American football. But we all had fun.
(Playtime = photo cred. Aubrey)
Saturday (June 1), Maxie went to the radio station at the crack of dawn to do a Q&A with curious callers about what we’ve been up to. I’m glad she was willing to represent us at such an early hour! She also advertised for our presentation that afternoon on Sports and Fitness. We had some technical difficulties setting up, but we presented information about the benefits of sports and prepped for some demonstrations in the field. The local women’s handball team and the soccer team were there. We also introduced sports jerseys that Aubrey’s high school donated for the community to use. It was great to see everyone’s face light up and to connect with everyone via common clothing. Once we were all dressed up, we went to the field for the demonstration portion of our presentation. OSU’s Maxie, Grace, Abby, and Aubrey led warm ups, conditioning, cardio, and cool-downs in a big circle. I loved the feeling of community we had, and I’m so pleased that the women were so willing to do the (probably crazy-looking) exercises they prepared with us. Plus, the footballers (or – the paid soccer players) stuck around to give pointers and even ask questions on certain stretches.
(Community Sports Day = photo cred. Aubrey)
Friday (May 31), we went to Jigijem village to give presentations on violence against women and group building. Joan was sick, so we postponed the seed sharing and demonstration gardens for later this week. We had some big delays though, due to the people expecting us later this week, and then the electricity going out. So, before we presented, we ended up doing impromptu activities with the local children. We danced and played until the community was ready to receive us. Then we gave the presentations and distributed pens and notebooks. This time around, there seemed to be more trouble between language and cultural differences – especially when it came to the perceptions on rape, but Castro translated everything into Oku and we tried our best to answer questions. After the presentations, we served food to the group.
(Jigijem = photo cred. Maxie)
Thursday (May 30), we also did presentations, but this time we did them in the council center in Elak. Before we began, we met with a women’s empowerment center funded by the government that offered trade classes. We talked and did a needs assessment. Then we went next door to the council’s hall and overcame our technical difficulties to present 4 different topics along with Oku translations: group building and dynamics, violence against women, ecofeminism + climate change, and seed saving/organic farming practices. It took several hours, but in the end, the message seemed to be well-received and we served food. The goal is to get hard copies of all the presentations to distribute to all of the groups we’ve talked to. The seed saving instructions are vital, so we’ll work on making that information especially clear.
Wednesday (May 29), we were still in Mbam. The OSU portion of the team worked with local schools to plant thousands of seeds in “polytine” bags for pre-germination. All of the trees will be planted into one of the sub-division’s major water-catchment zones that have been affected by deforestation. Joan and I went to do a demonstration garden nearby and one on the top of a mountain. We met a nice herbalist and had to ride 3 people to a bike to get to the top. There, we worked with another women’s group to plant the 15 seeds.
So, tomorrow (June 4) we’ll head to neighboring villages like Lui to meet with the communities and do some more demo gardens.
Hopefully you’ll hear from us again in about a week. Our internet hasn’t been working properly for the past few days, so if I really do manage to post this on Tuesday, it’ll be a job well done! Beating the odds, for sure.
I’m not exactly sure what our focus for this week is, but I can tell you that we are almost done here in Elak-Oku. Our next destination is the sub-division (I think) Batibo. We’ll leave for there on the 9th!
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!