Friday, November 28, 2008

Just a Glimpse

I didn't feel right about putting that last post up with no pictures, so here is just a glimpse of what I summarized in the previous post. Plus a little bonus from this very evening.

The funeral in the West...

Eating fried fish heads with Magy at Nancy & Gretchen's place...

With the proud parents and baby after the dedication service...

And here's your bonus photo!

Too Busy to Blog

In a week I'll be back in San Francisco, transitioning my life from Cameroon back to the Bay Area. It's starting to seem real, which means there's a lot I'd like to do before going! So I'm getting right on it, selling off a few last items, packing every nook of my suitcases, figuring out logistics, saying goodbyes. It will be a full week.

The past few weeks have also been full, so let me offer my explanation for not posting in quite a while: my final Cameroonian Travel Odyssey! I left Yaounde on Friday 14 November with my friend Thierry, and spent that weekend attending the burial and funeral celebration of his maternal grandmother in the village of Bafou. After that, I spent a few days with Nancy and Gretchen in their part of Bafou, reading and going for walks and eating delicious healthy food. Then I bussed up to Bamenda for the dedication of baby Grace, and we finally made our way back to Yaounde on Tuesday 25 November. It was a wonderful journey, and also the longest period I've been away from running water. Nothing like that first shower after getting back.

So there will certainly be a few more posts on this blog, but perhaps not until after I'm back in the United States. (I hope that doesn't detract from the authenticity of my reporting.) Saying goodbye to this place will still be hard, but I'm ready to close this amazing and complex experience, and more than ready to see my husband!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cooking Lessons

Hello everyone, and welcome to my yard. I'm so glad you could all be here.

My name is Edwin, and I am coming up on two years old, though my extremely cool appearance may lead you to believe I am far older. Today I'd like to tell you about the day my friend Ann came over to learn how to cook some proper African food from Melanie, my mother. My mother is a good cook, so I figured she'd be a fine teacher for Ann. (These are Ann's sunglasses -- I found them on the desk where she'd set them, put them on, and proudly marched into the kitchen. Everyone seemed to like my new look, so I kept them on for a while.) Behind me in this picture is my eldest brother Patrick, who took most of the following pictures. (I have two more elder brothers and one elder sister too, but they were off at school.)

The featured meal in today's lesson was greens with peanut sauce, served with cocoyams. The ladies started off with a huge pile of greens fresh from the market, separating the leaves from the stems. They even did their hair the same way. Hmmm...

Then they brought them to the outdoor fire to cook in a big pot. Here you see me supervising as my mom puts the greens into the boiling water.

While we waited for the greens to cook down, we sat on the woodpile in the shade of the house and ate some oranges. You may have your own ways of eating an orange, but here we peel off the outer rind (leaving the white part), cut the fruit in half, and suck out the juice from each half, spitting seeds all over the yard.

Here you see Ann stirring the big pot to make sure all the greens are evenly cooked. She seemed to be enjoying herself already.

After the greens were cooked, rinsed, and drained, it was time for the groundnuts. They roasted them over the outdoor fire, then Ann used the grinder to make them into a nice paste. She liked turning the big crank, and kept right on grinding through some other ingredients: tomatoes, celery, garlic, ginger, hot pepper, and the like. It made a very nice sauce base.

Then the two of them took two smoked dried fish and separated out all the edible parts, including the heads of course, to add to the sauce later. My big brother Patrick peeled all the cocoyams (it was a big bucket full!) and washed them, putting them in a big pot on the outdoor fire to cook.

Finally it was time to start putting everything together. This called for the indoor fire, a single gas burner. Here is Ann adding the sauce ingredients to some hot oil, as my mother cuts the cooked greens into small bits.

Here's Ann stirring again. I think she likes to stir things. By this time, everything was all together in the big pot, greens, fish parts, sauce, groundnut paste, and some water. It sure smelled good. Ann and I ran around and played some hide-and-seek while we waited for everything to cook.

At last, the cooks get to taste the fruits of their labors! It was very tasty. I ate two big pieces of cocoyam before the greens were finished cooking, but by the time they gave me my little plate of food (see it there on the table?), I was getting kind of grumpy and went to take a nap. Later when I woke up, Ann was still there, and they had saved my plate of food for me. One of my other brothers got home from school and he thought the food was good too. Ann left to return to her house, so we said goodbye because it was time for my bath. It was a good day, and I think she learned quite a lot about how to cook a good meal.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I'm tired. Spent the night at the house of friends with cable television, lying on their couch watching CNN, didn't sleep but an hour. I was far too riveted by the history unfolding before my eyes. First time I've been out of the US during a presidential election, but boy howdy, the world sure is watching this one. I am very excited about my new president this morning. As is nearly every single Cameroonian.

Again: YAAAAAAAAY!!!!!

Now I'm off to market, then off to bed for a long nap.
God bless America.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

O Canada

You know, Cameroon and Canada have more in common than first-two-letters or number-of-syllables. They are also French/English bilingual countries. And they also both celebrated Thanksgiving this October. In Canada it was probably quite simple -- everyone was doing it. But in Cameroon, it was the proud, the few, the fine residents of Cabtal apartments (and a few friends) who chose to lift up this fine holiday and celebrate with our two resident Canadians, Lois and Teresa. How does one go about celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving in Cameroon? Well, the ever-fabulous Kerry was pretty much the event mastermind, and directed us all in producing an impressive feast!

The first step: we cleared all the furniture out of Kerry's apartment and cobbled together a looong table, bringing in chairs, tables, and dishes from other apartments until there was enough for all.

Lots of neighbors worked together to prepare all those delicious Thanksgiving foods everyone loves, and laid them on the table. A few people arrived...

...and then a LOT of people. In the end, we were nineteen in all. We passed dishes around, serving ourselves, helping each other out.

Everyone ended up with a plate something like this: roast chicken, two kinds of stuffing, cranberry sauce, garlic mashed potatoes with gravy, cooked carrots, green beans with mushroom cream sauce, whole wheat roll with butter...ohhhh, we were very happy.

Zone-Zone definitely approved of his first Thanksgiving experience. He brought his own style to the meal, forming his mashed potatoes and gravy into a large round 'lake' in the style of a local dish called achu, and keeping his bottle of piment (hot pepper) oil close at hand.

Kerry was most pleased with the results of all the efforts, and rightly so!

Everyone was in a mighty good mood after such a delicious meal, but we got even happier as we stood up and made our way over to Lois and Julia's apartment for dessert. We talked about what we were thankful for as we digested a bit more, then attacked a magnificent spread of desserts.

There was pumpkin pie, apple pie, real whipped cream, chocolate chip cookie bars, and that chocolate-sprinkled whipped-cream creation at the top left is something officially called 'sex in a pan,' but renamed 'farmer's delight' many years ago by Lois' family, who apparently had some reservations about the original title.

In the end, we were all filled with food and gratitude, feeling especially fortunate to have celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving in Cameroon, and looking forward to feasting yet again in November for American Thanksgiving!

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Well friends, the past couple weeks have included a few milestones, and what better way to celebrate than with a blog post? (A blog post about all the ways I've already celebrated, that is.) First off, I said goodbye to Karen's lovely apartment. Another person was scheduled to occupy it in mid-October, so I knew I'd need to vacate the fine place where Chris and I spent our last few months together in Cameroon.

I enjoyed it to the very last, hosting various meals and enjoying the large (by local standards) oven until the last possible moment. Here is my posse of work friends, toasting before dinner. They are (L - R) French, British, American, Dutch, and German, all enjoying Mexican food in Cameroon. How often does that happen?

Mmmm, quesadillas. (I actually cooked the beans Cameroonian style, with lots of garlic and ginger and a couple Maggi cubes, the way Julia taught me. They turned out really tasty.)

Also in the days before vacating the apartment, I hosted a delightful Food Club brunch, replete with banana-pecan pancakes, eggs scrambled with fresh basil and cheese and cherry tomatoes, and fruity tropical juice drinks. And my 'last act' on those dishes was preparing dinner for Marian (just back from furlough) and Ginger (owner of Bert Douglas the cat), both fascinating people who've been in Cameroon for many years.

Now I'm living in my friend Christy's apartment, just downstairs from the place I left, subletting from her while she's away for seven weeks. (We were both thrilled to discover that her absence matched up almost perfectly with the remainder of my stay!) She'll be back a few days before I leave. Anyway, her place is identical to Karen's in most ways, but laid out the opposite way, a mirror image of the old place. A key difference: as you can see, the mosquito net over the bed is blue!

After several days of cleaning and organizing, I'm feeling quite at home here, ready to invite others in. I've already had my friend Rebecca over for breakfast...

...And Beth came down to make cookies one night! Notice that she's armed with a hammer, which may not be a traditional baking tool, but for us it comes in very handy for breaking the Mambo bars into chocolate 'chips.' Beth did the hammering for this batch, and a fine job she did.

We were using the same recipe Chris used, and it was Beth's first time attempting chocolate chip cookies. They turned out great! As of this writing, I still have a couple left, but not for long.

A few mornings ago, the sound of chopping woke me up. Here's the sight that greeted me when I peered out the back window. Clearly this guy had been working hard.

Yesterday, the lovely Ann brought me some fragrant white roses from her yard. I had to take a picture because she's completely color-coordinated, from her clothing to the flowers right down to the oven mitt protecting her hand from the thorns. Yes, all is well in the new apartment.

Another important milestone duly observed was one full year in Cameroon. Chris and I first arrived here the evening of October 11th, 2007...amazing how much learning and transformation can happen in the course of a year. My friend Annelies is also celebrating her one-year 'Camiversary' this month, so we went out for dinner with friends to celebrate.

So yes, this October I've vacated one apartment, moved into another, and celebrated one year in Cameroon. But more wondrous still is the fact that as of this month, Chris and I have been part of each other's lives for six years! Yes, we met in October 2002, when I was fresh out of MVS and he was still fairly new in town, first over conversation and drinks at my Senegalese bar, then through innumerable other adventures, the extraordinary and the everyday. Nearly three years ago we embarked on the adventure of our marriage, and this year in Africa has been yet another remarkable experience. This picture of us was taken a couple years after we met, at a drag show benefit for my former place of employment. Can't wait to be sitting next to him again, with or without the red feather boa, and looking forward to whatever adventures the future may bring!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Kribi Again

Even after several trips to Kribi over the course of the past year, with Chris and other friends, I was eager to go again, this time with a large group of (mostly) RFIS teachers on their October break. This trip is a tradition that goes back several years, so these folks have figured out how to maximize the enjoyment while minimizing the cost.

Kribi is such a lovely place.

Even lovelier when you add some friends and spend a few days there.

We stayed at Maison St. Benoit, a guest house with several rooms and a few small kitchens, plus a nice big porch and a sheltered deck that overlooks the ocean. We were 16, so we occupied four sleeping rooms and two kitchens. There were lots of other SIL folks staying nearby, enjoying the October school vacation on the beach.

We brought all our own food, and enjoyed some delicious meals as a group out on the sheltered deck, with the sound of the waves as a backdrop to our conversation.

Janell, Mandi, Christy, and Ruth are all very pleased about enchilada were we all!

Even the lizard had its own little insect buffet going on overhead, right next to the light bulb.

We arrived on a Monday afternoon and left the following Thursday afternoon, so there was plenty of time for playing games, taking walks, reading on the porch, swimming, and relaxing with friends. Here Christy gives Julia a shoulder massage, while Julia models her new side ponytail flip hairstyle!

Tuesday was Liz's birthday, so we had a little celebration for her that night. After a delicious spaghetti dinner, we invited all the nearby SIL neighbors over to our deck, as well as a hilarious French guy who was also staying nearby. Christy performed a rap she had composed for the occasion (with Lois and Julia and me serving as back-up rappers), and we all ate chocolate cake.

There was a rousing game of 'around the world' ping pong, involving much hilarity and many shenanigans. (That's the French guy with the shaved head and no shirt on.) A large group of us spent quite some time running frantically around the table, hitting the ball back and forth, and laughing uproariously.

Jenny crouches in readiness for the next hit, as Christy runs with all her might to the other end of the table. Go Christy go! By the way, I noticed that my left-handedness put me at a disadvantage in the game, since most people leave the paddle with the handle to the right. The breakneck pace of the game often forced me to pick up the paddle in some funky way, since there's no time to adjust. So if you're playing around the world ping pong, lefties beware!

On our last night, some of us went out for dinner and ate some delicious seafood at a restaurant right on the beach. It was the very same restaurant where Chris and I ate with our friends Alison and Jordan when we were there a month before. The food was still delicious, and the chef (Adolphe Mesmer) remembered me.

One day, a bunch of us went to see the waterfalls at the south end of town. They were beautiful and the water was flowing much faster and higher than the time Chris and I saw the falls last December. There was a mist of spray in the air.

Here we are, trooping over the rocks. We spent a few hours there, some folks relaxing on the rocks, some playing in the water (cold!) or throwing the frisbee.

Liz and Ruth had their own special adventure at the waterfalls. Both very athletic and stong swimmers, they decided to swim across the channel, something Liz and others had done in years past. But the current was incredibly strong, and it was impossible for them to stay in the narrowest part of the channel. Both of them were swept quite far out toward the open sea, where the crossing was two or three times as wide. Liz eventually reached water shallow enough that she could walk to the other shore. She's the tiny speck on the bank in the photo above.

Ruth was swept even farther out, until a friendly pirogue came and picked her up.

The boat man went to the other shore, picked up Liz (much to her relief -- she was worn out!) and rowed both of them back to us.

Oh, did I mention that there were dogs? Maison St. Benoit must have about a half dozen resident dogs who hang out on the beach below. Here are four of them.

Beyond this rock outcropping was our favorite swimming area. You could walk around the rocks except at high tide, when you had to go around on a road above. The water was lovely, the ocean floor was sandy and even, and the waves were decent, but sometimes a bit too calm for body surfing. One moonlit night, there was even a contingent of ladies that took a dip in the altogether, if you know what I'm sayin'. (Apparently this is also a tradition.) You bet I was one of them!

I missed Chris, and he would have loved being there with everyone. However, he did call to say hello on the night of this sunset. All in all, it was yet another wonderful time in Kribi.