Tuesday, April 29, 2008

more photos from up north

Here are more photos from our time up north last week, in the Extreme North Province of Cameroon, near the city of Maroua. The trip was to visit granaries in villages participating in RELUFA's food sovereignty program.

A granary, and a Presbyterian volunteer. Those sacks are 100 or possibly 120 kilos. The granaries we saw stored millet, sorghum, rice and corn.

He's displaying an open bag. This is either millet or sorghum, which is also known as millet.

There are lots of kids in the villages we visited, and they were always interested in our delegation.

One of the men who welcomed us.

A village in northern Cameroon: conical roofs, mud-brick architecture, hot sandy ground, stony hills behind, and trees for shade.

A traditional one-family granary, accessed through a roof hole. The ladder is the log at right, with steps carved in it.

People dressed up for our visits, especially the women.

Visiting with women in one of the villages.

We were fed at one stop, by this lady, just outside the granary behind us. That's me in the yellow shirt.

Ann and Christi visiting with women in one of the villages.

Lionel (left) from PC-USA, and our driver.

Me with Elias. Elias heads up an NGO that is very active in the food sovereignty program. He's the one who reports on this program at RELUFA assemblies, and he lives in the region, in a village himself.

Meeting under a tree, in one village. Ann's on that high rock in the middle.

There were often goats around. Or maybe sheep. Not really sure how to tell them apart, since I'm a city boy. Chevres and moutons, respectively, in French.

More village architecture. We heard people don't sleep indoors except during the rainy season, since their houses get so hot in the sun.

Village well.

More kids. This meeting ran long. Can you tell?

We saw donkeys here and there as well.

This is fresh-harvested millet.

A thatched-roof house belonging to a Christian family, which I was told is discernible by the cross at the peak.

This guy seemed a bit lost.

This one actually spent awhile looking for his friend from the previous photo.

One of the village women who administers a granary.

Roof thatch.

More kids. This was a shorter meeting.

Talking things over at our hotel in Maroua after our visits, on the morning of the day we flew out. From left, Elias, Lionel and Christi.

Basil, who works for an NGO in Garoua, the next city south, who came along to observe. I found out he's another computer guy.

Mangoes, lots and lots of mangoes, for sale at the side of the road in Maroua. It's mango season here at the moment. There are a few different varieties.

That's our whirlwind tour of the north. We had a great time seeing it all for the first time, and never would have gotten to see the villages like that if we had just wandered up here on our own instead of coming along on a work trip. This was much better than simply being a tourist. We made ourselves useful by taking pictures and tracking expenses.

And, actually, by blogging. RELUFA has a new intern we met just today, and apparently she found RELUFA partly through our blog. So maybe this will all be useful in ways we can't predict.

Mango Chutney

Okay, I’ve been holding out on you in the mango department. Not on purpose, but it’s been several weeks, perhaps even unto a whole month, since I tried making mango chutney for the first time. Got a recipe from epicurious.com, played around with it a bit so it suited me, put it all together one afternoon, and there it was. One nice jar-ful, plus another cup or so to freeze. As it boiled along contentedly on the stove, I had a taste every now and then to monitor the progress. But then I put it away and went out to play ultimate Frisbee, and didn’t really think much of it until nearly a week later at dinnertime.

Our friend Kerry (she used to work as a chef) was over, and we had some couscous with a few raisins, some sautéed chicken pieces seasoned lightly with salt and pepper (thanks Chris!), and then added a few dollops of the chutney. Wow – it was SO GOOD! Absolutely loaded with flavor, not too sweet, with a nice round of spices and fresh ginger to perk up the fruit and onions. So without further ado, here’s the recipe. Even though most of y’all don’t live anywhere near a mango tree, I bet you’d still enjoy this if you made it with an imported mango from Mexico. (The apples I used were imported from Europe, so we’re even.)

Mango Chutney (adapted from epicurious.com)

1 ½ medium apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (I used golden delicious)
1 large mango, peeled and chopped (not quite fully ripe)
(You should end up with roughly equal amounts of apple and mango.)

¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup finely chopped onion
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup white vinegar
¼ cup (scant) finely chopped peeled gingerroot
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp each: ground nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt (be slightly generous with the nutmeg and cinnamon)

Combine apples, mangoes, sugar, onion, raisins, vinegar, and gingerroot in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat, and boil gently, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until fruit is tender and mixture is thickened, stirring occasionally. Add lemon juice, curry powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt; boil gently for 5 minutes. Can, freeze, or just refrigerate if you’re going to eat it right away.

Friday, April 25, 2008

back from the far north

Here's a first few pictures from our trip to the far north of Cameroon. We flew on SIL's airplane, piloted by our friend Rob. We left Yaounde on Monday and flew up north to the city of Maroua, with a stop for fuel on the way, and then flew home again on Wednesday.

The Extreme North Province, as it's know, is a completely different part of the country from where we've been so far, in the region of Africa called the Sahel, a hot, dry area that lies south of the Sahara desert and stretches across several countries. This part of Cameroon suffers poor harvest, droughts, and people often simply run out of food at certain lean times of the year.

Our RELUFA network has a food sovereignty program to help villagers set up communal granaries in this part of Cameroon. The purpose of our trip was to visit some of the villages where the granaries are located with Christi, and with Lionel from the Presbyterian Church USA's Joining Hands program, who was here visiting Cameroon for a week.

Here's the plane, just leaving the hangar. We got there about 545am, so this picture is at maybe 615.

Christi, Lionel and Ann. We work with Christi on a regular basis; she is the Joining Hands liaison to RELUFA and, along with her husband Jeff, the one who offered us volunteer work in Cameroon. In fact, we're officially Presbyterian Church USA volunteers. Jeff works with Presbyterian churches in Cameroon and other central African countries, and he and I are collaborating on a French training session for Microsoft Excel at the moment. Christi and Jeff live in Yaounde with their two high-school age kids, and we typically see them several times a week. Lionel is Christi's boss. He's lived in a few different African countries, lives in the US now, and is originally from Haiti. He's been doing development-related church work a long time, and it was a real pleasure to get to meet him and talk with him a bit about development projects here and elsewhere.

Me in the front seat. I don't have a lot of small-plane experience, and I loved it. I kept thinking of the Millenium Falcon in Star Wars. Lionel and I agreed that this was the next-best thing to motorcycling.

Rob, who works for SIL as a pilot, and is flying the plane.

Shot this out the window as we were leaving Yaounde on a clear, beautiful Monday morning.

Another shot from the plane. Cameroon's terrain is varied; we're still in the green central part of the country here, headed north into the mountains.

Partway to Maroua, stopping for fuel. We lingered about half an hour refueling from a drum some local missionaries trucked to the airstrip. A couple of friendly Cameroonian guys in soldier uniforms showed up and I think Rob checked in with them briefly. Us passengers stretched our legs. People kept trickling in from the surrounding bush, and we had a crowd of maybe 10 scattered along the sides of the runway by the time we taxied to the end, turned around, and took off for Maroua.

More pictures coming soon, including the villages and countryside up north.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

music night

Music Night, one of the final social events of the annual SIL branch conference, was last night. Ann and I were invited to help out a pop bottle orchestra. She played and I held up the music for everyone, which is a pretty good distribution of labor based on our relative musical skills. I got a couple of photos with friend-and-fellow-orchestra-member Karen's camera. Here are the players:

And here's a shot of us at Karen's later, where the orchestra ended up hanging out after the show:

Images are shamelessly purloined from Karen's blog, which has some great pictures and some stories as well from her own experience here.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

cultural differences

Here's a list of cultural difference from a handout at the anthropology
seminar I attended at SIL yesterday. (Scroll down to see it, for some reason Blogger is having a hard time displaying tables.)

African culture Western culture
strong community values (group participation, decisions) strong individualistic values (individual initiative, decisions)
community identity individual identity
community living style private living style
extended family emphasis immediate family emphasis
holistic approach to life categorical approach to life
importance of the event importance of schedules and clock time
people-oriented priorities task- and goal-oriented priorities
real-life (situational) thinking abstract and academic thinking
preference for real-life learning preference for academic learning
spiritual worldview scientific worldview
emphasis on spoken communication emphasis on written communication
emphasis on spoken agreements based on relationships emphasis on written agreements based on policies
respect for the elderly respect for the educated
traditional inherited leadership elected (democratic) leadership
death is passing into the spirit world, survivors must perform rituals death is a practical problem, survivors need couseling and support
resolve conflicts through a mediator resolve conflicts face-to-face
practical, ritual response to spirit realities intellectual response to spirit realities
practical, ritual approach to religion intellectual approach to religion
vulnerability seen as weakness vulnerability seen as strength
much interest in the spirit world little interest in the spirit world

Why "Western", I wonder? Maybe "Northern" instead? The Cameroonians I've discussed some of these differences with, if they're not university-educated, just say "white" for this category.

I wonder which "Western" people this list applies to as well? Where on this scale would a rural American, for instance, without a lot of educational opportunities lie? Sure, the list is a generalization, and it certainly does seem to express pretty clearly, judging from what people said about their own experience, a set of different expectations between the foreign missionary community where this discussion took place yesterday and the Africans they encounter, employ, and seek to serve with their Bible translation work. But the missionary community here is an elite group of people, with a high level of education and the resources and motivation to come all the way here to do complicated and often difficult work. Would you find a lot of these differences within the US depending on which groups you compared? Maybe as class differences within the US? Or between the evangelical community Ann and I grew up in back in Michigan, and the Mennonite religious community several people in our San Francisco church grew up in back east, with its focus on community and group decisions and spiritual harmony? And where would, for instance, our San Francisco yoga instructor Kristie lie on this chart? I'm guessing somewhere in the middle.

This handout was actually an adjunct to the main discussion, which was based on a book called African Friends and Money Matters, by David Maranz, although the discussion did cover a lot of the differences on this list. Here are a few items from Maranz's book, which is actually published by SIL:

"Africans find security in ambiguous arrangements, plans and speech."

"Westerners find security in clearly defined relationships, arrangements, plans and speech."

And this:

For many Africans it seems that they believe there is such a danger of offending others that they prefer silence, indirectness, the solution of time making opinions clear, and extreme tact. An African friend told me this is one reason that Westerners are often misled, interpreting silence to mean that all is well. And of course to many Africans the Westerner comes across as insensitive, callous, indifferent to how others think and feel, and as having a great lack of human sensitivity and tact.

The thrust of the discussion yesterday was on this point, the difficulty in communicating based on very different expectations of social and economic relationships. Everything here, from employment arrangements to the prices in the markets to the traffic in the streets, is endlessly, constantly in a state of negotiation. It's exhausting until (or perhaps unless) you get used to it.

Maranz's book not only explores these differences, but explains how they make sense for people in Africa, which has a very different history from the West and where people's material conditions are usually very different today. He has a list in the book that summarizes these differences; here it is (somewhat abbreviated and annotated), and as he takes pains to note, this chart concerns the fewer than 50% of Africans who are employed, and thus doing better than lots of other people here (again, scroll down to see the table, due to strange Blogger layout trouble):

Concern of Life Westerner [in Africa] [Employed] African
Residence big house, upscale neighborhood small house crowded full of extended family members
food varied, balanced, eats in restaurants, invites friends over local affordable foods, feeds many friends and relatives, food budget always under stress
clothing buys as needed, well-dressed per chosen lifestyle tries to dress well but struggles to afford, buys used clothing from West, has one/few very good outfits
transportation has efficient private vehicles to go to work, church, club, for shopping, outings uses inefficient public transportation, walks [I question whether it's really "inefficient", based on our experience]
social life varied; entertains at home, hangs with friends, big budget largely centered on visiting and receiving kin and friends with food and drink; possible sporting events
vacations takes vacations in home country may have mandated vacations, does not leave country
educational background university-level limited opportunities in ill-equipped schools
educational resources books, magazines, tv, videos, [internet!], keeps up with the world radio, possibly tv, possibly newspaper, owns few books or magazines
children few many
children's education good, well-equipped schools, well-trained teachers, relatively small classes, up-to-date curriculum, headed for university difficult to ensure minimal schooling for all, large classes with almost no equipment, univerity possible only for the bright and lucky
telephone home, work public phone, possibly at work too
computer up-to-date machine, email and net access possibly available in office, hard to afford [this may be changing somewhat; we know at least one family with few resources but with a computer that was donated]
family responsibilities to nuclear family to large extended family including parents, grandparents, cousins and others
medical situation access to well-trained doctors, dentists, specialists, hospital care, prescription drugs [and an insurance policy that promises medical evacuation if services are needed that are only available abroad] can barely afford marginal care in a very limited local clinic, well-trained doctors beyond reach, may consult traditional healers and use traditional medicines [the interurban buses we've ridden often have someone on them selling herbal medicines, who gives a one-hour lecture and then does a lot of business]
discretionary income lots of money for nonessentials hard-pressed to make ends meet for food, housing, power, water and clothes
retirement expectations preparing with investments, house ownership in home country, government-provided security paying into government-run social security fund with marginal prospects of ever receiving its limited benefits [this sounds a bit familiar, actually...]
economic security little-concerned with long-term unemployment or destitution, possibly concerned about maintaining a well-paying job very much concerned with obtaining or maintaining long-term employment, loss means hard times and possibly destitution along with many dependents
physical security solid construction, iron bars, guards [and secure location, dog, a yard with high walls topped with glass shards and barbed wire, and ex-pat and local friends to call in case of trouble] questionable construction, neighborhood insecurities

The other thing that all this leaves me wondering, both these great, thought-provoking lists and the discussion yesterday, is how best to leverage all these differences to communicate effectively across our cultures? To partner with Africans to do the kind of linguistic and translation work that SIL does? To do the kind of development partnership with African organizations that we're helping with at RELUFA? How do you partner in a way that lets you collaborate not just on your methods, but on your goals? (Joining Hands seems to be doing this very thing with RELUFA, based on the meetings we attend). What does a development project based on African cultural values look like, and how does it differ from a development project under Western management? How about a church? And what does it take for an institution that may have its origins in a culture of domination, like colonialism, to reclaim its identity in a way that frees people instead of dominating them, to leave or reformulate alien values that don't work well here into something local that does? There's such a long history of foreign domination in much of Africa, culturally and religiously and in the rawest and most practical physical terms (slavery, resource exploitation, colonization) that it seems to be part of people's worldview, foreign and local people alike, seems to have molded everyone's expectations.

I wrote more about this and then deleted it. Back in college, I took a trip to Africa for a month, an overseas anthropology class during the interim between semesters. We went to Kenya for three weeks and then spent a week in Liberia. I came back and wrote up an article for the Calvin College Chimes about it. I didn't use the right language to express what I had to say, and got an outraged letter from an Ethiopian student at Calvin shortly thereafter, asking me if I had ever taken the time to actually talk to an African while I was there, and informing me how ignorant I was. I kept that letter -- it's in a box at home -- and I have never forgotten it. It made clear to me that, whatever my intentions were, I had offended someone through my ignorance of cultural differences and poor choice of language.

So all this is really interesting, but complicated. And dangerous.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fun Night improv

I mentioned to a few of my friends back home recently that I missed doing improv. Sam in San Francisco suggested I find a way to do some improv here. A few days later, our friend Christy here in Yaounde suggested to Ann and me that we get together with a few other people and put an improv set together for an upcoming SIL event. Christy has never done improv before, and neither had any of the people she had in mind other than us, but she thought it might be fun. And once we decided to do that, I discovered that there was another alum of River City Improv, an improv group from my hometown that I performed with for years, here in Yaounde for a few weeks volunteering with SIL. There are maybe a dozen of us in the entire world, and another one was right here, right now. It didn't work out for her to join us onstage, since she was flying out that night, and not sure if she would make the show, but it was great to see her, and since it turned out that she was there, she threw us some good audience suggestions.

The event was SIL Cameroon's annual Fun Night, which took place last Friday. This is a traditional part of the branch conference, when SIL people from all over Cameroon come meet in Yaounde for a few weeks. Ann and I don't actually work for SIL, but we've met and made friends with several people who do, including our friend Christy, who travels around the region teaching homeschooled SIL kids for several weeks at a time. One of the slides they showed at Fun Night was a great picture of her and two of her students up north dressed up as pigs for a play they wrote and performed for an audience of two, their parents. The pig play probably would have been a fine contribution to Fun Night, but Christy proposed to Ann and me that we put together an improv set.

So we did. With a grand total of one hour of rehearsal, seven people who had never done improv before in their lives, plus Ann, got up and performed it in front of a couple of hundred of their friends colleagues and family members. And they were great! We got to do two sets, since the other acts ran a bit short on time. We did 20 or 30 minutes of improv, all told. I was the MC for the improv sets, so I introduced the games, got suggestions, and edited the scenes when they finished, in order to keep things moving.

Our preparation and rehearsal was a one-hour meeting at Christy's apartment. I spent some time combing through the Improv Encylopedia online to jog my memory, took some notes, and then came to the meeting with improv games that seemed good for new improvisors, games with clear rules and a structure for who talks when. As we talked about each one at Christy's, people volunteered to try them and then perform them on Friday night. Some people were nervous, but everyone was willing to give it a try, and seemed to like the idea.

These performers weren't actors, but linguists and teachers who work for SIL and for Rainforest School, where lots of SIL kids attend. The format was improv games, which are funny and quick and depend on language and cleverness and a willingness to be silly, rather than acting experience. When our turn came to perform, I asked all the performers to get onstage, asked the audience who had seen improv before (most had not), and then explained that since we depended on them for suggestions for our success, we had to warm them up. We invited them to sing My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean with us, and every time a word was sung beginning with the letter B, they had to stand if they were sitting, or sit if they were standing. Meanwhile the performers and me sang lustily from the stage and bobbed up and down ourselves. Then to business.

The first game was Actor's Nightmare. One actor reads consecutive lines from a play script, the other has no script and has to improvise lines to somehow make the scene make sense. Dan improvised and Christine read from the script. I asked the audience for a random page number, and a location in Cameroon for the scene to take place. The location was Lolodorf (not sure on the spelling), which is the village where Dan actually works. The only script I had for this game was one I had borrowed. It was the script for the recent Rain Forest high school play, written by an SIL member here, so I introduced the skit as "deleted scenes from an early draft of the recent high-school play." Dan and Christine did a great job, and the audience was warm and appreciative, and stayed that way the whole show. Then we played the same game again, another scene, with Karen improvising and Margaret reading from the script.

The next game was the only one with all the actors, so we did it second to make sure we got it in, in case we got cut for time; we didn't realize we'd get a chance to do everything we had prepared. This was an advice game, where the audience asks questions. I asked the actors to come onstage in a line. I explained to the audience that I had found a strange snake out on a logging road in the wilds of eastern Cameroon that could answer questions. The snake had many heads, and each head could say only one word. I then fielded questions for the snake to answer, and the actors passed the mic from one to the next, each actor contributing one word to the snake's answer. As usual, this game resulted in a lot of hilarious semi-coherent nonsense that more or less answered the question; the audience loves the consternation of the players themselves as they try to come up with something reasonable.

For the last game of the first set, Chris J. and Christy came onstage and improvised a song based on the audience suggestion of "travel." So these two people, who have never improvised before but are a couple of hilarious over-the-top characters who clearly love performing in front of an audience, got onstage and made up a song about travel in Cameroon, on the spot. They really sold it too, and as the scene went on they got more and more over the top, crooning into their mics and dancing around onstage as people cheered them on.

That was it for the first set, but the MC for the whole evening told me they wanted us to perform again, and we had prepared a couple of extra games just in case this happened, so we were ready to go. The second set started with the mighty Ann playing the alphabet game with Michael. I asked the audience for something you might do in Yaounde while you were in from the village, for the scene to be about, and the suggestion was "buying cheese." So Ann and Michael did a scene about buying cheese in Yaounde; the game was that one actor (Ann) said a line starting with the letter A, then the other (Michael) said a line beginning with B. Then Ann with C, Michael with D, and on through the alphabet up to Z, trading lines. They were hilarious; I've seen Ann play this game before, and she's great at it, quick and very funny, and she and Michael got a huge reaction when Ann switched the scene from English to French on the letter O, with a line starting with "oui", and she and Michael carried on in French for six or seven more lines, without missing a beat. Since SIL is a linguistics organization in a French-speaking country, people just loved this. I've done improv for awhile now, but this was the only bilingual improv game I've ever seen.

The last game was another advice game; one good thing about advice games is you can really tailor them to your audience, so I explained that when I was in eastern Cameroon and found the snake, I had also run across three linguists who had been out there a long time, and had agreed to answer some questions for us here in Yaounde about linguistics. Karen (who really is a linguist), Beth and Christy came onstage and lined up to be the linguists. The game was that Karen always gave a correct, or at least reasonable answer, Beth always gave a completely wrong answer, and Christy gave as crazy an answer as possible. Once again, with no improv experience whatsoever and on one hour's rehearsal, these folks did a fantastic job in front of a crowd that loved them. Beth actually balked when it came time to get up onstage, which is a completely reasonable reaction if you've never done this before; we're friends with Beth, and I was convinced she'd enjoy it if she did get onstage, so I told her to she wasn't getting away that easy, and asked the audience if they wanted Beth to come onstage to play. They cheered her, and she got up onstage and did a great job.

And that was it. I got all the performers up onstage together and had them take a bow in front of the happy audience. Over the next few days, several people told me how funny they had found the show. People really liked it, and most people in the audience had never seen improv before. I wish I remembered more of what was said in the scenes so I could share it here, but that's not how it works. Since I was responsible for introducing things and tying it all together, my brain was taken up with that during most of the show, and although I had a great time listening and watching everyone improvise, it was more with an eye towards when to edit the scene and move onto the next one, and paying attention to the audience reaction as much as what was said.

Ann and I didn't take any pictures that night, but I'm going to try to track some down. Christy says she has a video of the entire evening, and promised me a copy once she transfers it to her Mac, so I may get video and audio. It would be great to have a record of the evening. I've never done or even seen a show quite like it. Some people who performed said they want to continue to improvise, so we might set up a regular meeting to get together and play games.

Technical note: for my improvisor friends (hi, Sam!) who may be curious, here's the set list from that night:

  • My Bonnie (audience warmup)
  • Actor's Nightmare 1 (Dan and Christine)
  • Actor's Nightmare 2 (Karen and Margaret)
  • Mr. Know It All (all)
  • Lounge Singer (Christy and Chris J.)
  • (break)
  • Alphabet (Ann and Michael)
  • Good, Bad and Ugly Advice (Karen, Beth and Christy)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

of elephants and mice

We're in a neighborhood full of missionaries and linguists who work for a Bible-translation organization called SIL. We go to church with them on Sunday nights, use their internet after we set up an account with them, and have lots of friends in the SIL community we see regularly. It's been a huge improvement in our social life; before we moved to this side of town in January, we'd lock the door at 6pm and spend the next 14 hours alone at home, cooking and reading and maybe playing Boggle.

In church a couple of weeks ago, someone asked for volunteers to take notes at the upcoming SIL branch conference, the annual gathering of SIL people from all over Cameroon right here in Yaounde. So I signed up for a 90-minute stint, since I can type, and it seems only decent to contribute something back. It happened to be the transfer of the General Directorship of SIL Cameroon from the man who's had it since 1999 or so to the new man. There were many thank yous and tributes, and then the outgoing director got up to the podium. He talked about his career and self-doubts, expressed some concerns, and told a story:

Elephant and Mouse were best friends. One day Elephant said, “Mouse, let’s have a party!” Animals gathered from far and near.

They ate. They drank. They sang. And they danced. And nobody celebrated more and danced harder than Elephant.

After the party was over, Elephant exclaimed, “Mouse, did you ever go to a better party What a blast!”

But Mouse did not answer.

“Mouse, where are you?” Elephant called. He looked around for his friend, and then shrank back in horror.

There at Elephant’s feet lay Mouse. His little body was ground into the dirt. He had been smashed by the big feet of his exuberant friend, Elephant.

This made me sad. But given the significance of parables in the Bible, the choice of this story for a speech in a mission organization struck me on several levels. So I thought I'd pass it on. As someone with big feet, I've been thinking a lot about it since, about how uncomfortable this story made me at the time, and how out of place I feel here in a missionary community, in Africa, and often just in the world.

I wonder -- can the elephant decide not to be an elephant?

We come home is less than six months. Going to Africa is the sort of thing that looks great on paper, an adventure, a chance in a lifetime. And it is. But part of the reason it is goes way beyond the scenery, and comes from the difficult questions you have to ask yourself if you're a person from a rich country living far from home among poor people you can't easily communicate with. If you're an elephant.

Friday, April 4, 2008

photos from Douala

We arrived at the Procure Generale des Missions Catholiques guesthouse in Douala in the late afternoon, on the second day of our road trip. I took a few pictures of their beautiful chapel, and a few portraits in the late afternoon light that show some of the city of Douala in the background. The guesthouse itself was the most architecturally comfortable place we've been in Cameroon, for us -- a no-frills, rambling place with big verandas and comfortable furniture, high ceilings, and plenty of light and space. The Cameroonian sense of space, and architectural use of light, is very different -- houses tend to be much darker and more full of furniture than back home, and often have more residents as well, at least in our limited acquaintance. This place felt European. The fact that Christi and the Belgian Catholic brother who checked us in were speaking Dutch probably had something to do with that. After dinner we sat outside in the warm Douala night drinking beers and talking late.

The chapel, with afternoon light streaming in.

Chapel windows.

A chapel statue.

This is Isaac, who drove for us on this trip, on the veranda at the guesthouse. He said he had a good time.

Me and Ann.


Christi. You can just see a bit of the pool through the rail behind her, but we didn't swim.

This is Douala, a small slice of it anway, looking toward the ocean from the veranda. Ann said it looked like West Oakland.

Self-portrait with stiff upper lip.

The veranda upstairs. There were two, one atop the other. The one downstairs had more shade and more comfortable lounge furniture. It was so nice up here, at the end of the day, that I just said in a chair and read, in spite of the hot sun.

Christi, Ann and Isaac talking as night fell, looking at the lights across the water.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

the 100% guilt-free blog

No fewer than three of my friends from the US have apologized to me recently, via email, for not following this blog or emailing faithfully enough.  So I want to make something clear:

Ann and I have no expectations that anyone will or will not be reading this blog or emailing us while we're in Africa.

The blog is on the internet for all the world to see, so it's available, but whether you look is up to you.  Our families and a few friends expressed an interest in keeping up with us while we're away, and it's nice for us to have a record of our experiences, and plus it's fun to write, so that why it's here.  

It might be the kind of thing you like, if you like this kind of thing.  If you have other things to do and want to catch up with us once we get home, we're fine with that too.  We love you just the same.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

incidental fauna of Cameroon

Cameroon has a diverse animal population, some of whom we met on last week's road trip.

We had to pull over to make some room for these guys.  

They took up two lanes.  We pulled over.

One of the fruit dryers had some neighbors with a small piggery, containing four or five residents.  It happened to be siesta time when we visited.  Unlike the typical Iowa hog farm, which admittedly is somewhat larger, this operation did not smell bad at all.

They were interested in us too.

They also took an interest in the camera.  

We have lots of these multicolored lizards in Yaounde too.  

This guy lived was watching us from the top of the wall in a drying operation in Douala.   The span of his legs was maybe four or five inches.  He also had a small neighbor to the right, just out of the picture here.

When Presbyterians attack!!!  (Note helpful danger warning at left).

The restaurant in Douala had a pet cat.  It kept lookout towards the road while we dined, and patrolled the roof.