Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Farewell Tour

As part of my farewell tour, I went to Bamenda. I feel like half my posts are about me visiting Bamenda from Buea. Woops.

First I went to visit my host family in Baffoussam. Almost everyone was gone, which I should have realized, because it is the school holiday. My host parents and 2 oldest brothers were there though. My host mom gave me the recipe for Koki (which I discussed making with her before) and I am going to attempt making it when I get back.

Koki ingredients:
8 cups Koki bean (cow peas)
6-10 peppers depending on how hot they are
3-4 cups water
1.5 TB kamwa*
2 cups palm oil
salt to taste

*Kamwa is a type of mineral or something (it looks like a stone) but you can make a substitute by drying banana or plantain peels, grinding them, then rehydrating them. I'm told this is neccessary because otherwise after eating koki you will need to "run to the latrine".

Koki instructions:
1. Soak your koki bean 4-5 hours
2. wash the koki beans well and remove the peelings (this step takes forever)
3. Grind with pimente
4. Add Kawma
5. Add oil and water
6. Bake 4-5 hours (on a fire). Leave room for it to expand

In Bamenda I went with a Cameroonian friend to visit the Fon and say goodbye. He told us about the rascal in village who wants to marry his daughter, but is a big Banga (pot) smoker and doesn't have a job that he approves of (he is a sand miner).
Conversation turned to how crazy this man is.

My friend: Are you sure that man is not going mad?
Fon: eh?
My friend: He is carrying many bibles
Fon: That is how it starts.

Our next conversation was about raising money to build a new church.

He also showed me the apartment that he is building for me in his palace, which I suppose is meant to be mine if I was a queen. It had 2 rooms and an adjacent traditional kitchen. Lucky me!

Leaving Bamenda was actually very sad. I was tearing up when the bus pulled out of the station. I stopped however when it turned out that we were just getting gas and returning to the station. We then waited for an hour while 2 people argued about who was supposed to sit in a seat. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Magic Bucket, or, how many times can I say "toilet" in a blog post that isn't about toilets.

I have running water in Buea. It runs almost every day from 5 AM to 6 AM. 

I don’t like waking up at 5 AM so that I can turn on the taps and wait for buckets to fill up. 

The Magic Bucket.  
I bought this 30 gallon bucket to store water in, but I quickly got tired of waking up early. I stared jealously at my toilet tank which would automatically fill up, until I though “duh, Allison, why don’t you just make a giant toilet tank” but “giant toilet tank” doesn’t sound as glamorous as “magic bucket” and I thereafter embarked on the magic bucket project. I guess I could have stolen the tank apparatus from the toilet in the picture, but my mind grosses out over the idea of something in a toilet going into something that stores the water I bathe in. Also, half the bolts on that toilet are rusted closed and I couldn’t take it apart.

Since that toilet doesn’t work anyways, I stole the water line that used to feed into it. I debated splitting the line, but really, the water pressure sucks since I am on the second floor, so that probably wouldn’t have worked anyways. 

Enough about the mechanics of it. Shopping! I had to buy a new toilet tank apparatus so I went to my local hardware store. My local hardware store is approximately 10 feet long by 10 feet wide and probably contains everything you need to build a house, if you include the 2x4s and plywood that lean against it outside. I have previously been to this store to buy lock cannons and bolts for my doors and nails, so they have some faith that I know what I am doing. Either that or they think I am getting someone else to install it. It is probably 50/50 chance either way. 

Being able to replace my locks, however, obviously does not give me enough cachet to be able to fix a toilet. Knowing the American name for an item is irrelevant when you are looking for an object here, as it probably has an entirely different name. I spent a week looking for eye screws last year because everyone said they don’t have them. Eventually I found out they were just called “screws with a circle on top”. No one could tell me a more specific name. Therefore, I asked for “that thing that is inside of toilets”. At least they knew what I was talking about, although they did show me a pale pink porcelain throne first.
After I successfully convinced the shopkeeper that I didn’t care if it would last 2 years or 10, and bargained for a half hour, and said half a dozen times that no, I didn’t need a plumber, I left the store with a cheap toilet thingy.Success!
Except not. I realized after I got home and scattered parts across my floor that the hose didn’t match up with the toilet thingy (2 female ends). I couldn’t steal an adapter from my toilet because, of course, it was rusted on. So I had to go back to the store. After another hour, 6 more arguments about why I didn’t need a plumber, and having looked at probably 200 different types of hose sockets (their storage system consists of things that look alike go inside of the same box), I went home with the wrong size. Woops. That’s my fault for only taking one end with me to the store. Who knew there was such variety in hose sockets? 

In order to save some of my dignity, I went to a different store to look for another one. This led to many more discussions of why I didn’t need a plumber. This store owner also got frustrated with me for not knowing the name of what I wanted. However, when I finally explained well enough (demonstrating with two pieces that didn’t fit together) he gave me the correct piece. When I asked him what it was called, he decisively said “a socket”.  I protested that this is what all of the things in the box were called and he smiled at me, glad that I learn so quickly. 

After I had the parts it took about 15 minutes to assemble, most of that time being me sawing a notch in the bucket so that the lid would still fit on. 

I have a bucket that fills with water and stops when it is full so that I don’t flood my house.
Inconvenience is the mother of invention.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Me? A Role Model?

Well, I am safely returned from my visit to the US, slightly more homesick that I was before I left. However, my sister's wedding was amazing (you looked gorgeous Kim!) and it was great to see all my relatives. I am happy to say that there were no arguments, let alone a murder like there was here recently over a wedding. ( What really struck me about this article is the last sentence. "Calm immediately returned to Buea Town and its environs." Basically, that describes life here. Horrible things happen, and then calm descends.

 Before I left for the US I was asked to speak at a local school for International Girls in ICT and Science Day. There are so many international days it is a little bit ridiculous, but as this is my field I guess I can't complain. As I was asked to speak as a role model to the students I decided to arrive on time, even though I know better. After sitting in the vice principal's office for a half hour, we wandered over to the meeting area, where I spend the next 2 hours helping to hang posters and curl ribbon and put out tablecloths. Who knew you could fold a tablecloth so many ways?

After we started, speeches were separated by skits and poems that the students had written. There were 4 schools that attended (out of the 8 that were supposed to come): 2 primary and 2 secondary. There was a prize of a computer for each primary school and each secondary school that had the best skit and poem. For those of you doing the math, that means half the schools would win a computer.

The skit that won for the primary school was all about how learning about computers can help you get a "bushfaller" husband. A bushfaller is a pidgin word for someone who is an international traveler, but usually refers to a Cameroonian who lives in the US or Europe. A common welcome for me when I came back from the US was "the bushfaller is back!"

The school that hosted was very well funded. Besides the fact that they had 2 (!) computer labs, they had a ping pong table made out of concrete. Kids played while waiting hours for the event to start.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Games, Names, Kids, and Telling the Truth

Two weeks ago was COS conference, where we saw everyone in our stage for the last time, and found out information like our language levels and our COS dates. In theory at least. In actuality we were emailed all that information after the fact. After COS conference I went to visit my old village on the way back to Buea (Only 8 hours out of the way!). I decided to give just a few highlights of the trip.

The chief occupation of villagers in Mbatu (besides farming) is sand and gravel mining. Every day, the big gravel trucks will come down the main road in the village and pick up workers who wait by the side of the road with their shovels. Usually the truck will stop and the people will climb into the back. Last week, the truck did not stop, but instead just went merrily along past the waiting workers. My best guess is the driver was just being a jerk. The first worker threw his shovel like a javelin into the truck bed, and took off running. The truck can’t move too fast on the dirt roads, but it definitely wasn’t slowing down, and the guy was running as fast as he could. Eventually, he took a running jump and got a handhold to pull himself up. The second guy couldn’t throw his shovel because of the man already sitting inside, so he had to do the running and jumping while holding a shovel. I thought they would be furious, but 2 minutes later when the driver stopped to talk to someone, I noticed both men grinning.

Cameroonians like names. At least, Mbatu villagers do. My first day visiting village they started the debate about what my name was going to be. Because there was a schism when they were first deciding, I ended up with two names. The teachers at the school called me Lum, or Ngialum, and the villagers called me Ngiabih.
After going to visit the school and getting confused for Darcie (my replacement) by at least half the students and teachers (welcome back from holiday, are you teaching today? Madame, are we going to the lab?) I started the walk back to town. I don’t like walking in front of students because then they like to gossip about me, so I was walking painstakingly slow to stay behind them. Students do the 6 km walk daily, and have to do chores when they get home, so they’ve learned how to amble along slowly. Eventually, they invited me to join them by asking me questions about the internet. As a side note, these random conversations are when I think I actually educate the most.
While walking with the students, a person on the side of the road called out “Ngiabih!” to greet me and I of course responded. This startled all of the students and they exclaimed “Madame! You have an African name!” They were then very jealous and asked me to give them American names. Most Cameroonian children already have an American (or “Christian”) name, along with their African name and the family name. These names are most often from the Bible, but they could also be any word in English that their mother liked. Examples include Thankgod (A boy’s name: I had 2 students named this last year) and many names like Prudence and Blessing. The very happy child in the picture is named Chanel.
If I wrote my name like a Cameroonian it would be LACKER Allison Bih, although the order is not consistent. I told them that they already had American names, but they insisted on new ones. Kevin, Joe, and Ben, you all have random Cameroonian students named after you now. They called each other by these names for the rest of the walk.


In Cameroonian households, children do the work. Everything from washing clothes to taking care of younger children is the work of anyone older than 7 and sometimes younger too. When I went to visit my old compound, this gave the kids an excuse to stop “real” work, and instead they ran around trying to feed me. They smashed some palm nuts to get “kenet”, the center of the nut. It tastes like coconut, but after you chew it you spit it out.
They also spent awhile climbing trees to get me guavas. It isn’t really guava season yet though, so out of the 12 they gave me, 2 were ripe. They seemed content enough to eat them however when we shared them out.

On the bus back to Buea the woman next to me had 3 kids. She looked to be about 20 at most, and her oldest child was maybe 4. She was having difficulty holding 3 children on her lap so she handed the youngest to me. This baby was maybe 7 months, so I spent the next few hours trying to keep her head from bouncing too much on the bad roads. When we got to the rest stop I ended up wandering around buying mangoes while carrying an infant child. Many people told me I had a beautiful child, which I didn’t deny.

Telling the truth
…which leads me to my next story. Sarcasm is a form of humor that is absent in almost all Cameroonian interactions. Because of this, at first I refrained from using it, but eventually I learned that they really do appreciate it. One of the favorite stories told by my small neighbors is when I was walking them home from school (they do it on their own usually, being grown up children of 5 and 7, but I happened to be there). Even though they are two years apart, they look alike, and a random person happened to ask me if the two children whose hands I were holding were my twins. I said “yes”, because quite obviously they were not, but it amused everyone. Another example is when I was walking with the students to town and explaining the internet. One was saying how he wanted to find a wife through the internet, and I was trying to explain that people can say anything on the internet. The boy told me that he would ask for a picture. To try and prove my point, I said “they could send you a picture of a cat. Does that mean that you found a talking cat?” At first they all stared at me for awhile and I thought I had made a mistake. After all, their tabloids and folk tales refer to talking animals and almost everyone openly admits to believing in sorcery. After a moment though they started laughing and we kept referring back to “talking cats” whenever I said you couldn’t trust what was on the internet. “Anyone can say anything, in real life or on the internet. For example, I am a talking cat”.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Christmas in Limbe, New Years in Maroua

This Christmas break, my brother and his wife came to visit me, and we all went to the Grand North. We saw lots of things, tried lots of new foods, and generally had an adventure. Here is basically our itinerary. Since my camera isn’t working well, I don’t have any photos to go along with the description. Anna has lots of photos of the trip though, so I will try and put some photos to go along with all this text later.
December 24th
On Christmas eve my brother Kevin and his wife Anna came to visit Cameroon. I hired a taxi to drive from my city (Buea) to Douala where the airport is to pick them up. It is about an hour away.
Ethan and Boris were staying at my house after climbing the mountain, and when we got back they had bought some grilled fish and soya for my family to try.
December 25th
Christmas morning we opened presents (thanks for the replacement ipod guys!) and then headed off to the beach. After enjoying a traditional sunny Christmas in the sand, we went to the wildlife sanctuary where we saw lots of monkeys. That night we spent with other volunteers in Buea.
December 26th
In order to get the first bus to Yaounde, we left my house at 5 AM, to get the 6 AM bus. It left about as on time as things get in Cameroon, around 6:45. That night we got on the overnight train that goes to Ngaoundere.
December 27th
Since we were now in the North, Kevin and Anna needed to experience riding motos! We started with a leisurely hour long moto ride to see some waterfalls and lakes. Lake Tisan is a crater lake, and the Vina Waterfalls were pretty, with a picturesque shipping crate in the background.
December 28th
We started the morning off by climbing Mount Ngaoundere. It was a pretty hike, and it was cool to see the city spread out, and fading off into the dust clouds in the distance. We interrupted both a funeral and a group of teenagers meeting at the top, so we didn’t spend too long before heading back down.
In the afternoon we travelled to Lagdo, which is a small village on the edge of a giant lake (Lake Lagdo) that is rumored to have hippos.
December 29th
We woke up early to look for hippos. We climbed over a ton of rocks, and had broken conversations with fishermen and other random people who kept telling us to look in different places. Eventually, someone told us that we had to go to the dam to see hippos, so we wandered into town to find some motos.
Kids mobbed us to try and shake our hands. Anna brought out her camera to ask if we could take a photo, and they all lined up neatly and orderly in about 2 seconds, while older kids who were too cool to try and shake our hands rushed over to be in the photo.
We grabbed 2 motos to take us to the dam. They stopped as soon as we were in sight, and rushed off soon after we had paid. We realized why, when some gendarmes came over to tell us that we couldn’t be there. Instead, we had to go and talk to the man who runs the dam. After he explained to us that the dam was a government facility and we couldn’t see it, he offered to give us a tour. He walked us around the entire place and pointed out where the hippos usually were (we were a few hours too late, or 8 hours too early). He often pointed out towards the dam and said “you can’t take pictures here” and then would turn and say “but you can take a picture of this” and then wait expectantly until Anna took a photo.
Back in Lagdo, we went to the hotel to get our things and try and figure out how to get to a major town. I asked the person who was running the hotel, and was overheard by another guest who offered us a ride to Garoua (about 2 hours away) as long as we were ok with stopping for a drink on the way.
He later said that he was a friend of another Peace Corps volunteer in Ngaoundere. He also asked us a lot of questions about agriculture in the US, which unfortunately I wasn’t able to help with much.
Driving into Garoua you cross a bridge, where our new friend (I never learned his name, I asked twice but never got an answer) pointed out the hippos below. He pulled over momentarily and a man came running up to ask if we wanted to touch the hippo. We declined, and were driven to the bus company that would take us to Mokolo. After we got there, we were told that the last bus had just left, so our friend argued with them for a minute in Fulfulde. We were told to hurry and buy tickets while they called the bus and told them to wait. We used motos to catch up to the bus.
We got to Mokolo a little after dark, where we met up with Emily and Zach, 2 volunteers who live there.
December 30th
On the 30th we went to Rhumsiki, a village known for its strange rock formations. After a 1.5 hour moto ride down a dirt road, we went on a hike through the surreal scenery. We crossed a tiny dried up stream, which marks the border to Nigeria. There are 8 families who live in the valley, 4 Cameroonian families, and 4 Nigerian families who guard the border.
We then visited the Crab Sorcerer, who told Anna that she would have 2 kids, a boy then a girl, and that she and Kevin would have a tranquil life. In response to my question of “what will I do after I leave Africa?” he told me that I would return to Europe, stay with a friend, study a bit, then get a good job and lead a tranquil life.
We then returned to Mokolo where I argued with the moto drivers over price, because 2 of them didn’t speak French, and they guy who translated either misunderstood or they decided while they were waiting that they wanted a different price.
December 31st
A group of us from Mokolo all travelled together to Maroua. We explored the city a bit before going to the New Year’s Party. It was cool to see all the volunteers in the Grand North.
The first day of 2012
We started the new year off right with Spaghetti Omelette Sandwiches. We then wandered around Maroua some more, exploring the market and other areas.
January 2nd
Kevin, Anna, me, Rose, and her brother all went to Waza National Park. It was a few hour drive to get there, but the drive itself was very interesting. The width of Cameroon in the Extreme North region is very narrow, so you saw many moto drivers who were smuggling goods between Nigeria and Chad. The most scary was the moto drivers who would carry up to 20 large containers of gasoline on their motorcycles.
In Waza we saw a lot of giraffes, some antelopes of various types, a bird that looked like it came out of a disturbing nightmare, and a bird that was a spectacular bright blue.
January 3rd
Our plan for the third was to go to Pouss, but it wasn’t very time sensitive so we didn’t set an alarm. For the first time we slept in until 10, so by the time we got to the bus station the last bus had already gone. However, we were told we could take a bus to Maga (the neighboring village) and take a moto from there. So, we did.
I got our moto drivers to take us all the way to the Chad border, but there was a large river and by the time we made it there it was starting to get late. They asked if we wanted to go see the traditional houses that Pouss is known for, but since it was getting later we decided just to go back to the market. The moto drivers pretended they didn’t understand and took us to the houses anyways. We argued with them for a bit there before they did what we told them to.
We walked around the market a bit, tried some random foods, and enjoyed some warm Fanta. We then decided we should try and go back even though we hadn’t been there long. When we found the busses that were going back to Maroua, they said they we already full, but we could pay twice as much and they would kick someone else off. While Anna and I were debating with our consciences, the bus left, so I asked another woman who was left behind what she would do. She said she would take a moto to Maga and hope there was a bus in Maga, so that is what we did. When we got to Maga, the bus was almost ready to leave so we rushed and bought some tickets and we were off. After a long bumpy bus ride with only a few stops to pray and to close the door when it rattled open, we were back in Maroua.
January 4th
We took the 3 AM bus that left at 4 AM to go all the way from Maroua to Ngaoundere. We arrived in Ngaoundere in the early afternoon. We went to the Lamido’s palace and wandered around a bit.
January 5th
In the morning we chased down the mobile cart of the famous omellete guy and experienced his omelletes. We then wandered through the market to buy some scarves and had to run away on motos to get away from the persistent woman who was propositioning my brother.
We ate dinner with some other volunteers before getting on the overnight train back to Yaounde.
January 6th
After falling asleep in the scrubland of the North, we woke up to the jungle of the grand south. We transferred to a bus in Yaounde, and headed off to Buea.
We enjoyed a meal of traditional Cameroonian food before going back to my house and falling asleep in beds that didn’t move.
January 7th
We went to Limbe in the morning, so that I could go to the bank, and so that we all could enjoy fresh seafood. We then went back to Buea and Kevin and Anna were tolerant spectators while I debated leases with my new landlady. A quick run through the market for food, and it was time to go to Douala and the airport.
So, in 2 weeks, we went to 6 regions and 10 cities. It was a lot more fun than this probably makes it sound, but at least it is an idea. Thanks for coming Kevin and Anna, and I contribute our amazing transportation luck to you two (because I certainly don’t have it on my own).

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

3 Day Weekend

Sunday was the Feast of the Ram. Because there is a large Muslim population in Cameroon, this means Monday was a national holiday. For my three day weekend, I went to the West. Jenny was medically separated about a month ago, and she had come to visit for a few weeks. However, Sunday was her flight back home, so I went to Nkongsamba to say goodbye. This was my first visit to Nkongsamba, and I was impressed by both the city and the scenery, though it did give me a reminder that I need to practice my French.
“C’est quell direction a Bare?”
“I no talk English fine”

Sunday morning I went to the Chutes d’Ekom Nkam with another volunteer. This waterfall is just outside of Nkongsamba, and is where Tarzan was filmed. I don’t know which Tarzan, but my tour book told me that! We took a taxi to the head of the trail, and then hired a motorcycle taxi to take us down to the waterfalls (about 10 km away). The forest was breathtaking. Because they are attempting to market the waterfall as a touristic attraction, the rainforest has not been cut down for farmland. There weren’t even villages along the trail, only a well maintained dirt road, and the forest.

At the toll house there was a large sign that posted prices, and a man waited for us to pay before he would let our driver pass. We paid him 4500 CFA for two people and a camera, and continued on to the waterfall. There is a small park by the waterfall and a guide met us there. He proceeded to tell us that there isn’t a gatekeeper at the tollhouse on Sundays, and that we gave our money to bandits. We were able to give him a description of the men however, and I had accidentally gotten a picture of the motorcycle driver with them. He said he knew who it was, and allowed us to go to the waterfall. The Chutes d’Ekom Nkam are huge! They are really quite stunning, although quite possibly the most touristy place I have seen in Cameroon, not that there was anyone else there. I recommend anyone in the area to go and see them.
On Monday I went kayaking on the Noun River with some other volunteers. There were some very nice rapids, and we saw wild monkeys! I didn’t get any pictures because I didn’t want to chance losing my camera in the water, sorry!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Election Announcement Day

I have been travelling a lot lately, for various reasons, but it just happened that I would be in Bamenda for the day the election results were announced. For your information back home, Bamenda is the seat of the opposition leader. I arrived last night around 8 PM. Everyone on my bus was handed a piece of paper issued by the Bamenda City Council that called for peace.
This morning I woke up around 8 AM. Muriel and I (both made temporary residents of the Bamenda office because of standfast) went out in search of breakfast. We walked to the usual spaghetti-omelet shack, but they were closed. The second place we went to had an open door, but turned us away (at 9:30 AM) with the excuse that they were tired and wanted to rest. Upon questioning at a third place, we were told that people were afraid because of the election results. I asked that woman why she was still around if it might become dangerous and she just shrugged, saying “what can I do?”

I would estimate half the stores in Bamenda were closed, although there were a few taxis running. I was able to get to my village without mishap, and sat down with a friend to watch the results be announced. 2 hours later, I left his house. In Cameroon, “election results being announced” means a man from the supreme court sits in front of cameras reading the statistics for each polling district. I watched the Minister of Transportation sleep. I watched the men (and women) of the supreme court sit around looking bored, but stylish, in robes and wigs that imitated Great Britain from a few hundred years ago. I heard Garoua’s statistics announced as having 900,000 votes for Biya while less than 200,000 people voted at all in Bamenda. (Bamenda is larger than Garoua).

My second stop in village was the school. It was 1:00 on a Friday, but there were only a few students in an abandoned classroom. They appeared to be practicing for choir, but one student told me they were praying for peace.
After that I went to visit a friend who lived nearby. She praised my bravery multiple times, saying that soon she would “go to the village” for safety. After I told her she was already in village, she said “well, since you are here, we will stay here”.
My final stop was to visit my neighbor and landlady (and to stop by to say hi to my replacement volunteer). She wasn’t home so I gave her a call. She was out at a nearby bar, drinking while waiting for results to come in. I joined her and sat and discussed for a few hours before coming back into Bamenda. (At this point, they are still reading statistics that no one really cares about anymore).
Bamenda at 6:30 was dark and quiet, with only a few taxis and motorcycle taxis to break the silence. I saw a large group of policemen milling about aimlessly.
My impression? Other than the defaced billboards of President Biya, no one will protest over the election. I have been repeatedly told over the past few months that even if they don’t like the president, people will not fight, because at least they have food.
We will see. It is currently 8:30 at night, and the final results have not been announced. They started reading numbers at 11:00 AM.