Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Day dinner

We went out on Christmas day with work friends Fanny and Guy for a drink
at Hotel Mont Febe, and lunch at a restaurant called Atlantic. Here are
a few pics. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays!

We wish all of you, family and friends and our occasional anonymous
readers as well, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

-- Chris and Ann

A Gift from Afar

No, there will be no Christmas card this year. And we won’t be able to attend any of your parties. But for those of you who like to cook (or might enjoy trying), we present this small gift: a really yummy peanut sauce recipe that we’ve already made several times since arriving in Cameroon. It’s not Cameroonian; it’s more Indonesian. But it’s a wonderful use for the abundant peanuts here, and although we usually serve it over roasted eggplant slices, it would probably be delicious with ‘most any vegetable or meat combination you can dream up. Or eaten straight off your finger from the pan.

It all started when Marie, the house help for the people we’ve been house-sitting for, bought some eggplants for us. Several of them. We’re not usually eggplant-eating types, and hadn’t asked her to buy any for us, but there they were, squat and purple in our frigo. When Chris declared his general dislike for eggplant, the obsessive non-waster in our family (that would be me) set out at once to find the tastiest possible way to consume lots of eggplant. I think I found it. We’ve even asked Marie for more eggplant since then. You go ahead and eat this with anything you like. Enjoy, and a wonderful holiday season to all of you from us in Cameroon.

Spicy Indonesian Peanut Sauce (for Two) modified from

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small onion, minced

1” of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced

¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)

Oil for sautéing (olive is good)

¼ c. ground roasted peanuts (use natural peanut butter, no additives)

2 tsp. soy sauce

1 tsp. sugar

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1 c. water (approx)

Heat oil (one small pour, perhaps a few Tbsp.) in med-sized pan. Sauté garlic, onion, ginger, and red pepper flakes a few minutes ‘til softened. Add the peanut butter to sauté mixture, stir to combine for a minute or so. Then add soy sauce, sugar, and lemon (we usually combine these in a small bowl ahead of time) and stir. Add water (start with about ¾ c. and see if you like the texture; you can always add more) and let sauce bubble until slightly thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste (may not be necessary) and serve with great joy! (Note: we don’t have red pepper flakes, so we use a small amount of piment, the wonderful local hot pepper sauce, and add it with the wet ingredients.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Funeral in Sangmelima

Thiery, Ann, and another friend of Thiery's on the main street.

We attended a funeral in a Sangmelima, town two or three hours south of
Yaounde, last weekend. Our friend Thiery invited us to come with him,
so we all took the bus there last Sunday, packed in on jumpseats in rows
built to hold four that had five people each. The funeral was for the
father of Thiery's work friend Emmanuel. "Papa Daniel" died three years
ago at age 82; it's common here to hold the interment immediately and
then have the funeral a year or more later. We arrived about noon and
waited an hour in Emmanuel's family home. Then we headed to a big hall
for food and speeches, attended by family and local dignitaries and
including a couple of hundred people. Then a procession through town to
the family house, where there was dancing. The deceased's portrait was
always around, carried by someone in the procession and the dances, and
his son proudly displayed his beer mug to remember him by. It was a
festive atmosphere celebrating his life. Even the clothing is special;
people often make clothes especially for an event like this, and often
several people will wear outfits made from matching fabric.

We wait at Emmanuel's house for things to get started. Note formal furniture in sitting room, photos of family on walls, beer in large bottles.

The hall where the speeches and meal took place.

One of the hosts at the ceremony. This garment, known as a bubu, goes down to his ankles, with matching pants under it, and is traditional Cameroonian clothing for men.

Dignitaries at the funeral. You can't see it, but the man in the foreground holds a green branch, an important symbol known as the "tree of the father."

More dignitaries. The man on the right is the president of a society the deceased belonged to.

More dignitaries. The man on the right also holds a branch.

The procession following the ceremony.

Emmanuel displays his father's mug in his memory, during the procession.

The dance after the procession, in front of the family home. The portrait of the deceased was carried in the procession and in the dancing as well.

More of the dance. You can see some of the matching clothing here.

Us at the dance. Emmanuel in the center, Thiery on the right. Thiery told us later we honored his family by coming to the funeral, because it showed the community he was an important man.

Another dance, after the first, closer to the house, smaller and more lively.

A traditional masked dancer, part of the second dance.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Especially for Mom

For those of you who know my mother well, you're probably aware that there's almost nothing she appreciates so much as a good praying mantis. So naturally, when one took up residence in our front porch for a few days, I thought of you, ma. The above photo (blurred as I held the camera at unsteady arm's length to get as close as possible) was taken Friday when we first noticed her perched on a wall-hanging. For the past several days, we've spied her in various porch locations as we come and go, and today when we went home for lunch, we couldn't find her. Did she leave through one of the (gaping) holes in the screen? Did a hungry bird snatch her away? Or is she just hidden where we can't see? We never saw her catch any bugs, but the bug population is generally high, so she's probably well fed. And now you know: praying mantids look about the same in Cameroon as they do in Michigan.

Joining Hands newsletter

The Cameroonian NGO we volunteer with here is called RELUFA. If you're
curious to
find out more about what they do, check out the new issue of the Joining
Hands newsletter, specifically the Cameroon section, at

It's full of information about what RELUFA does and some of our recent
work. One of Ann's articles, already posted here, is in there, along
with lots of other information and pictures, and even a small video.

Joining Hands is a program of the Presbyterian Church USA that addresses
global injustice and poverty, and a strong supporter of RELUFA's work.
Christi, who returns to Cameroon this month with her family, and for
whom we are housesitting, works for Joining Hands here in Cameroon, and
thus works closely with RELUFA.

I am curious whether our church in San Francisco, First Mennonite, is
involved in something like Joining Hands, which is more interested in
figuring out why people are poor or hungry or powerless in the first
place, and addressing that, than in providing handouts. Give a man a
fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll just have to
hand it over to get his kids into a school that the law says is supposed
to be free. Poverty is complicated.

Monday, December 17, 2007

RELUFA meetings in November

(Ann wrote this article for inclusion in the PC-USA's Joining Hands newsletter, out soon.)


The RELUFA offices.

The week of November 5, 2007 was an eventful one for RELUFA. Twice at their offices in Yaoundé, the main gathering room with its neat square of tables was full of people, French and English words mingling and bouncing off the black and white tile floor. Bookending the week on Monday and Friday, both meetings brought people together from diverse places, ready to focus together on RELUFA’s work and vision.

Check presentation: Methodist missionaries Leah & Wes Magruder, Marie Crescence Ngobo (Centre pour l’Environnement et le Developpement) and Valéry Nodem (RELUFA network coordinator)

The Monday meeting started the week with a celebratory tone, and featured a delegation from the Presbyterian Church (USA), a Methodist missionary couple, Credit Against Poverty (CAP) program beneficiaries, and RELUFA staff. The occasion was a happy one indeed: the presentation of two large donations from Methodist churches in the USA, one for RELUFA’s food sovereignty program and the other for the CAP micro-credit program. Introductions went around the table, beneficiaries spoke about what they’ve gained thanks to their CAP program loans, and smiles broke through as Francophones and Anglophones translated for one another, arriving at well-earned moments of understanding. During the proceedings, trays of dried fruits and plantains passed from hand to hand, produced by a women’s cooperative who had purchased their food drying equipment with help from a CAP loan. The afternoon was a beautiful demonstration of how RELUFA as a network does indeed bring people and organizations together.

Moderator Meg Agbor (director of RELUFA member organization CHAMEG) and secretary Guy Nomigue (RELUFA’s CAP coordinator) keep the CAP work-group meeting running smoothly.

The Friday immediately following, the tone in the room was more businesslike, though no less congenial. For the first time since its launching in January 2007, the CAP work group was reuniting to review the program’s first year. Eight different member organizations of RELUFA were represented, as well as a micro-finance consultant and RELUFA staff. Many of these same people and organizations had planned, discussed, and struggled together for three years to form the CAP program, and now that it was up and running nearly a year, it was time to ask: what worked well? What challenges do we face? What changes can make our program better and stronger? There were suggestions on streamlining the application process, acknowledgements of the creativity and resourcefulness of beneficiaries, hard questions about what to do when payments are not made on time. The meeting moderator and secretary kept the group focused and engaged through each step of the agenda. When the day’s business was concluded mid-afternoon, participants shared a delicious lunch and a renewed sense that Credit Against Poverty, still a work-in-progress, is well worth continued investment, as are the people it serves.

Friday, December 14, 2007

my grandmother

My grandmother died recently. Her funeral is today. I hope it doesn't
seem irreverent to share this here, but this is effectively our ongoing
newsletter, and lots of the most important people in our lives read
this, so it would be even stranger to make no mention of this than it is
to share it.

Her name was Joanne. Ann and I visited her when we were in the midwest
this summer, where she lived just south of Chicago, at a home in South
Holland, near relatives. I had not seen her for awhile. Her husband, my
grandfather, died a couple of years ago now, and she'll be buried next
to him.

She was very kind, and a nurse, and an amazing woman. When I lived in
Chicago in the 90s I would visit them sometimes, and once I brought her
a small television with a device called WebTV, which connected to the
internet through the telephone. She immediately started browsing the web
and sending email. I have honestly never seen anyone pick up internet
technology as fast as she did, and she was in her eighties at the time.

She fell recently, and needed surgery, from which she never regained
consciousness. She was 91. The obituary my uncle wrote for her reads in
part, "She enhanced her husband's Christian ministry with her invaluable
wisdom and support. Her Christ-likeness blessed all who knew her."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

So here's a question for YOU!

Hi friends. I know that some of the smartest and most grounded people I
know read this blog. Or at least say they do :) So here's a question
for you, one that looms large for us here in Cameroon: what do we do
with the massive disparity in wealth between us and the people we see
around us every day?

You can get an education here, but you can't get a job unless you know
somebody. For those with a job, income seems to be about a tenth of
what it is in the US, based on a few people I've talked to. And while
rent is about a tenth of what it is at home in San Francisco, food is
just as expensive and gasoline is more than double. Starting a business
is impossible unless you have what they used to call "clout" in Chicago,
because the official taxes and fees will kill you and the paperwork will
take forever to get. I recall that unemployment is about 50%, but I may
be wrong. But most people here do at least have family in the villages
and enough to eat.

We were in a taxi last night, and the driver asked us about what we do
here. When we told him we work for a microloan program, he asked us
point-blank what our NGO could do for him. I didn't have much of a
response. I wish I did.

Ray K said this question came up at the missionary church gathering, but
that nobody had concrete answers. I don't feel like I can change
anything, other than perhaps myself. But is simply cultivating an
awareness of other people's poverty, and living mindfully, really
anything more than pious self-help? I wonder that about our choice to
volunteer here.

So what do you think? The question again is "what do we do with the
massive disparity in wealth between ourselves and the people we see

Please post anything you have to say about this in the Comments section,
below. I'd love to know your thoughts.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mvan and bike pics

Here are a few more pics from the weekend drive, more than a week ago
now. The first is a shot of our new neighborhood, called Mvan. We're
moving in January, when Ann K and Ray and their kids head to the US for
a seven-month furlough. Mvan is a newer neighborhood a good half-hour
to hour (traffic-depending) from Djongolo, the neighborhood where we
currently live and work. There's a lot of greenery left in Mvan, and a
lot of new construction.

The second picture is something you see a lot of here. There is often
more than one person on a motorcycle, and motorcycle taxis are common,
though not so common as the ubiquitous cabs. Sometimes you even see
three people riding on one of the little bikes. I have wanted to get a
picture of that for awhile, but they go by quickly; I'll keep my eyes
open, though. Alas, only one out of every hundred or so riders has a
helmet on. There must be a lot of fatalities in motorcycle accidents here.

The beautiful little 50cc Suzuki in the third picture belongs to a
friend of Ray and Ann K's who we met recently. He agrees they are
dangerous to ride in Yaounde, as does everyone, because of how crazy the
traffic is here. I want one anyway, but will restrain myself. Most of
the motorcycles here, unlike this one, are Chinese, and are reputedly
unreliable but very cheap. A foreigner working here for SIL bought a
Chinese bike to ride to South Africa but it broke down irreparably with
no warning while he was in Angola. A new Chinese motorcycle costs about
six hundred dollars.

Saturday, December 8, 2007


Here are a few more pics from driving around Yaounde last weekend. The
first is a lady selling greens, which are covered against the sun. The
next couple shots are of more of the ubiquitous roadside vendors. The
last is a roadside grill where a lady sells fish. We were on our way
back to Ann K's when she said she wanted to pull over at a place she
knew that sold excellent fish. There are little roadside grills like
this all over town, selling fish, chicken, plantains (the offspring of a
banana and a potato, excellent when grilled or fried), or beef kebabs
known as "brochettes." As long as it's freshly cooked it's safe for us
to eat, in contrast to anything fresh, which has to be taken home and
soaked in diluted bleach first. Meat here is usually cooked or at least
served with "pimante", or hot pepper, and often other spices as well,
and is absolutely delicious. We bought some fish and some chicken, with
a side of pimante, and had an excellent lunch.

Saturday work

I'm at the office on a Saturday morning. As I suspected, the internet
is faster. Whether this is due to the office being empty or internet
usage in general being lower on a Saturday morning, I don't know. It's
usually faster in the morning during the week, too. I always liked
working when nobody else is around back home, and find I enjoy it here
too. Programmers are solitary creatures.

But not too solitary. We have a birthday party for Booboo, the baby Ann
shared a picture of earlier. And tomorrow we're getting together with
Christi across town, who is throwing another birthday party for some
fellow missionaries. After a couple of months here, our social schedule
is picking up.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Enterprising Women

(This is Ann's article on the FADE women's collective, for publication by the Joining Hands newsletter of the Presbyterian Church USA).

What could you do with a thousand borrowed dollars? The members of FADE (Femmes Actives et Developpement), a women’s collective in Yaounde, Cameroon, used a loan of 500,000 CFA (slightly over $1000 U.S.) from RELUFA’s Credit Against Poverty program to purchase a large gas-heated food dehydrator, or sechoir. They were among the first to apply when the micro-credit program was launched in January 2007; nearly a year later, the women evaluate their progress and look toward the future.

(The stately sechoir)

(inside: drying pineapple!)

A visit to their November meeting finds five FADE members hard at work at the home of Marie Tchebembia, the group’s leader. They are clearly very proud of their sechoir, which gleams in a nearby outbuilding. When put into action, it gently dries succulent bits of local produce into delicious ready-made snacks or meal ingredients. Today’s order of business involves preparing a quantity of vegetables for drying, and the women sit outside in the shade, surrounded by large bowls of greens (kelen keleng), okra (gombo), and Cameroonian ‘plums,’ a purple-skinned vegetable with pale green flesh and a bitter flavor. They come together like this at least once a month, and more often if they’ve got orders from customers.

The women prepare one vegetable at a time, seeding and chopping the ‘plums,’ then separating the greens from their stalks, then thinly slicing the okra. As they work, they talk about their dried foods enterprise thus far. There are certainly challenges: keeping themselves supplied with raw materials, locating quality affordable packaging, spreading the word about their products, finding clients willing to purchase large quantities. But they continue to educate people on the advantages of dried produce: all the nutritional value is still there, it’s very convenient, foods keep longer and travel more easily, and one can enjoy fruits and vegetables outside of their specific growing seasons.

(The lovely finished products, ready to buy)

For now, FADE members sell primarily by word of mouth from Madame Tchebembia’s office at the government bureau where she works, and they attend expositions where they can promote their products. But they dream of finding more substantial clientele, hiring additional help, and above all of purchasing a field where they can grow their own supply of fruits and vegetables to dry, thus avoiding the whims of the market. As it is, they are doing all the work themselves, generating enough income to repay their C.A.P. loan, and are keeping their repayment schedule perfectly, with enough left to sustain their activity and put some profits in their own pockets.

A few days after the FADE meeting, we pay a visit to Madame Tchebembia’s workplace, the archives office in one of Yaounde’s town hall buildings, where she shows us the small vitrine that displays their wares. Surrounded on all sides by tall binders of birth certificates, she speaks of how groups like FADE make a difference in Cameroonian women’s lives. So many women wait at home with hands folded, she says, for an oft-unemployed husband to bring home a paycheck. This should not be! Women need to have confidence in their own abilities to support themselves and their families, and being part of a women’s collective provides them with a forum to share their experiences, learn new skills, and work together.

(Mme Tchebembia)

(Manioc: from root to starch)

Founded in June 2005, FADE’s goal has always been to empower Cameroonian women by putting them in charge of income-generating activities. Before the C.A.P. Program made it possible for them to purchase their sechoir, their primary activity had been processing manioc (also called cassava root) into starch and flour. Among the very first FADE activities were training sessions where the women became quite accomplished at guiding manioc from dirt-crusted root to a bottle of white laundry starch powder, enough for thirty shirts. They continue to process manioc to this day.

But things have changed since those early days, especially since the C.A.P. loan and the sechoir, according to Madame Tchebembia. Women hold their heads higher, are more likely to attend group meetings, and are seeing tangible financial results from their work. They are truly proud of what they’ve accomplished as a group, and are better prepared not only to face challenges along the way, but to dream about their future.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Yaounde streets

I grabbed a few pics from the front seat of the van this weekend, while we were riding through town back to the Mvan nieghborhood with Ann K and company. These are a few I got of the streets of Yaounde.

There are far more cabs than any other kind of vehicle, although large trucks are only allowed through at night, when you can see huge tractor-trailors, each loaded with a few enormous tree-trunks, barreling through town. Cabs are under a dollar for short-distance rides, and although you can get one to yourself, they are typically shared. You tell the driver where you want to go, and how many people, and if it's a long way you offer a price. "Quartier Mvan, deux place, huit cent." If he stops completely to let you in, you've got a ride. Unless you're by yourself ("taxi depot"), the ride will slowly wend its way to your destination, as the driver continues to troll for fares unless he has a full cab, which is three in back, and three in front with bucket seats, including the driver. Lots of cabs are Toyota Corollas, and I'm usually in back with Ann, so there's not a lot of head- or legroom, but it's usually an interesting ride. Drivers and sometimes passengers hear us talk, figure out we're Americans, and want to chat.

Typical roadside here in Yaounde is full of small businesses run out of storefronts and stalls with umbrellas selling anything from hardware to groceries to food to phonecards. Parked cars are dusty, small and Asian, since people with the money for SUVs and German automobiles have enough money to park them behind walls in private space, unless they're out running errands. There is a drainage ditch alongside the road, sometimes covered with flagstones as in top pic, sometimes with wood, and sometimes open. People occasionally pee in the big ones. And even downtown there are usually plants and trees in the background somewhere, or right along the road, because the area is very lush. There's loads of fresh produce and tropical fruit available all over the place, at markets, at stalls and in stores.

Trash pickup is a recent innovation in this city, according to Ray. Trash is still often burned. We can smell it wafting in sometimes when we're in bed, from a small fire somewhere in the neighborhood, since the windows in the house are screens rather than glass.

Monday, December 3, 2007


We went to a bazaar this past weekend with Ann K and her kids. It was at ASOY, the American School of Yaounde, probably a benefit sale of some kind. Items on sale included a variety of Africana for ex-pat consumption: clothing, artwork, sculpture, furniture, masks, fabrics, food. Lots of it was high-quality; we talked with a mask vendor and found out he runs a gallery and carries work from all over Africa. In contrast to a market here, this was supposed to be a situation with no pressure to buy.

Ann and Ann K. are debating some purchases in the upper-right corner. Ann's in the white hat:

Here's an overview of this area of the bazaar:

Some of the fabrics for sale:

There were lots of statues and carvings for sale:

There were nuns at a few different stalls, selling fabrics and food:

Ann K had a van from SIL that day, since they had some friends with them. She invited Ann and I over, so we caught a ride. Ann K and I were in front, so here's everyone else. The blond kids are Ann K and Ray's. The others are friends who live in their neighborhood, soon to be our neighbors too, next month:

The friends have puppies, which required a visit once we got back to their neighborhood, in quartier Mvan:

Did I mention there were puppies? Dogs and cats are not treated with much regard locally, so it's a lucky pet that ends up in the hands of ex-pats, or with a good job as a guard dog. Apparently, German Shephard pups are worth quite a bit here, because of their usefulness. These were half-lab, half mutt.

Here are a couple of shots of Ann K and Ray's place in the late afternoon. We'll be living in here starting next month. If we stay in the Bay Area for good, this is probably the biggest place we'll ever live in.

There appears to be some doubt as to the credibility of Ray's story.