Saturday, May 31, 2008

Grease at ASOY

Last night we went with the Boyds to attend the opening night of the American School of Yaounde's production of the musical Grease. Watching African schoolkids perform an American musical was something new. The kids had a blast, and the audience was enthusiastic and appreciative. Lots of fun. Here are a few pictures.

Danny Zuko's pals.

The cast sings and dances.

Danny meets the new and improved Sandi. Danny was the one American in the cast.

The cast performs the closing number.

The show runs today and closes tomorrow afternoon. They worked on it all year. The performance was at a theater in town, and even had a live band. It seems fair to assume this is the one student production of an American musical that we'll be seeing on this trip. But you never know.

Friday, May 30, 2008

commuting by taxi

I thought it might be interesting to share a bit about our commute. We wrote about taxis once awhile ago, I think, but the subject never gets old. Plus it's an almost-daily part of our life here.

We take a taxi into our office two or three days out of the workweek. We chose not to own a car here, because of the expense and the potential legal complications in case of an accident; my friend Paul has a brother who got into a car accident in Spain many years ago, and when the police arrived the crowd sided with the other guy and they took Paul's brother to jail. His parents had to wire him a stupendous amount of money just so he could come home. This story has stuck with me.

I'm not sure my parents would send the money.

(Sorry Mom, I couldn't resist; just wondering whether you're reading the blog.)

Anyway, since we don't have a car, we do what lots of people here do, and take cabs. Our friends the Boyds have warned us that they consider this unsafe, and recommend we find a regular driver we know and trust. But we've talked to other people who have taken cabs (during daylight hours, as we do) in Yaounde for years without any trouble; one single woman who teaches at Rainforest has been doing so without incident for 10 years. So we decided to travel the way most people do here, instead of being apart from Cameroonians in one of the few ways we can choose to share in life here a bit more.

It's been very interesting. Cabs are shared here, among random people. Someone who wants a cab will just flag one down; the cab slows to a crawl, and the person calls out their destination, and maybe an offered price as well. Standard cab fare in Yaounde is 200 FCFA, about 50 cents US. If the rider wants any other price, either becuase it's a short ride, or they want to get a really far ride that costs extra, they'll call out a price along with their destination. Getting downtown is 200 FCFA from where we live. Work is about twice as far, so we offer 800 FCFA for the both of us. So there we are, in quartier Mvan where we live, at the side of the road in the morning, both with our backpacks, flagging down a cab. Often there are one or two other people in the shade where we stand to do this. The cab slows, and one of us calls out "Etoi-Meki, deux place, huit cent" -- carrefour Etoi-Meki by where we work, two of us, for 800 francs, or about two bucks.

This is a lot of money, even though it's a long way, and we usually find someone pretty quick. Coming home is another story; there's a lot more traffic at the end of the day then there is at the late-morning hour we usually wander into the office, so it's harder to get a cab, especially up in the busier neighborhood where we work. So if I'm flagging down the cab, I offer a thousand francs up front. This is all of an extra fifty cents, but it usually gets us a cab pretty quick. Otherwise we can stand there trying to flag one down for ten or fifteen minutes.

The cabs themselves are banged-up Japanese cars, almost exclusively. I assume that people buy them used; Valery told me that you can get a used car here for a few hundred dollars. They are always yellow, if official; I think there are official red ones too that are for longer-haul operation, but we always take yellow ones. The driver's official license with picture is always suspended from the rear-view mirror, and if you're in one after dark, the cabin light is always on, and frequently disco-colored. The cars range in size from an old Toyota Carina, which in the US is a Camry, down to a Toyota Starlet, which may be the Tercel. These are 80s models, judging from their boxy shape; definitely not the roomy middle-age person's Camry of today. So there is often not much headroom. Combine this with some drivers' penchant for dropping the seat way back in what I cannot help but think of as a gangsta lean, and you end up with very little space in the back seat sometimes. I am often folded up pretty tight, my knees up, my upper body folded downward over my heavy computer backpack as I look sideways out the window at Yaounde going by. It's often better than this, though; today there was little headroom, but lots of legroom, so I could just slouch. There are three people in the back seat, in a full cab (keep in mind this may be the back seat of 25-year-old Tercel), and another three in front, in the bucket seats. The two in the front are stacked on top of each other, literally. No space is wasted. Nobody seems to mind, and often the cabs aren't full.

We go a long way, so people get in and out for shorter rides as we make our way across town, a trip that takes us anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, but usually somewhere in between. People often fall into conversation in the cabs, and it makes me wish I could understand more French than I do, the real fluid French that francophones speak with each other. Today the woman in the back with us got into an animated conversation with the two guys up front about schooling, but I couldn't follow it. They were giving her some opinions and advice.

The drivers are collegial with each other. We've never once heard a cab driver actually yell, ever, at anyone. They murmur (it's not even muttering, being free of hostility) when cut off on the road by another cabbie, or by someone deciding to merge across their nose and hold them up. Sometimes they'll pull up next to another cab and borrow a few francs, or say hello.

Taking taxis to work has been a fun, if sometimes uncomfortable, way to get to know Yaounde, since they'll take a few different routes between our home and work. And it's fun to pass through the streets almost unnoticed, this way, in contrast to all the attention and stares we get sometimes when we walk around on foot. Nobody here with money walks around on the street. Our Cameroonian friend Isaac told me once that when people see us do that as foreigners, they just assume we're too cheap to pay for a cab.

Taking pictures of taxi drivers and their passengers we don't know seems like a bad idea. So here, instead, is a picture of a pizza we made recently, modeled by Ann and our friend Karen:

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cameroonian Literature in English, and brief news

Every so often someone who doesn't even know us but has an interest in Cameroon finds our blog. So this is for you, if you're one of those people, or someone we know who is also interested in Cameroon in general.

There is a blog about Cameroonian English-language literature! You can find it at

I found it via the news feed for the term "Cameroon" that I set up on Google News, which fed me a link today to a story about it.

I haven't yet spent much time reading it. Caveat lector. But at first glance, it looks interesting, and certainly relevant to Cameroon.

* * * * *

It's raining. I'm at CTC, across the road from our house, checking email. We're having a few people over for music tonight, including Phil and Cathy one last time before they leave town tomorrow. I'm working today on writing a videogame called ScholAfrica, which we hope to present at a big Presbyterian Church USA meeting next month; if we manage to get it online, I'll post a link to it here. Then I need to polish up the Microsoft Excel training session I'm presenting (in French, ulp) at the Eglise Presbyterian Camerounaise (EPC) in a couple of weeks, with help from Jeff and Ann. Tomorrow Jeff and I go into the EPC offices to check out the machines we'll be using. Other projects in the works include finding a server for the microfinance database application I wrote, and some redesign work on the RELUFA website at We've gotten busier with our volunteering, that's for sure. Tomorrow night is the high-school musical at ASOY, the American School of Yaounde. We're going with the Boyds, our friends and coworkers, and their kids. The show ASOY is doing is the American musical "Grease".

Ann has some great pictures of a couple of recent interviews she did with people connected with RELUFA; one is with a lady who dyes cloth, another with a lady who provides a lunch service in the quartier where our office is located. If you know Ann, consider sending her an email asking her to post these. :)

And here's a picture of Ann a friend of ours shot. It's blurry, but I love it anyway:

Monday, May 26, 2008


We play a weekly Ultimate game here in Yaounde with people from the SIL community, on their field. Here's a few pictures from last Sunday:

Steve, Marta and Ann.

I love this picture and wish I could publish it bigger here, but you'll just have to ask to see it blown up when we get home. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to get an action shot of an Ultimate game with a little snapshot digital camera, because of the shutter delay.

Karen, who injured her knee playing a few weeks ago but gamely showed up to watch, and Regan.

Beth (married to Steve), Harry, and Ken (married to Marta), with teenage friend.

Anna, Amy and friend. These were some of my teammates that day; we had so many people that we played three teams of six (this was the most players ever) and rotated teams every three points; I got these pictures when we were on the sidelines waiting our turn.

Friday, May 23, 2008

music nite!

We got together with friends last night for some music. Here are a few pictures.

Ann cooked Thai peanut sauce and roasted eggplant last night before we left. Note whiskey bottle at upper right, with yellow label. We are not big whiskey drinkers; this is actually a peanut bottle. For some reason, all the peanuts in Yaounde are sold in old whiskey bottles. Someone here is drinking lots of whiskey.

This is Beth. She hosted last night. Her apartment is near our place, in an apartment complex called Cabtal.

Phil and Cathy. Phil can play anything, and Cathy can sing it. We met them last month, and had them over to our place along with another guitarist named Dan, who has since returned to the village where he works. That first night was mostly bluegrass, but we sang all sorts of things last night: Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Beatles, blues, hymns, and lots of old-time gospel numbers from the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, with Cathy and Ann singing beautiful harmony. Alas, Phil and Cathy are leaving Yaounde next week and won't return til after we leave the country. We may get one more music night together before they leave, if they have time.

Karen. She hurt her knee a couple of weeks ago; thus the borrowed crutch. It doesn't seem to have gotten her down though.

Me and Ann.

Pam, Phil, me, Ann and Cathy. Pam also hurt her leg. She has the other crutch from the set Karen's came from. We met at Beth's last night so she and Karen wouldn't have far to walk, since they all live at Cabtal.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

radio silence

Not much to post lately. We are in a routine, such as it is. We go into work a few days a week, via a 45-minute cab ride through town. We work there. We come home. Our social life is active now; we haven't had a dull evening in some time. Last night we went out with a few SIL people in the neighborhood, including a Brit, to watch Manchester United and Chelsea battle out the European football championship. I had meant to take pictures but forgot the camera. The Cameroonians in the bar were raucously enthusiastic, and we had a lot of fun. Tonight we're getting together with a few people in the missionary community to play and sing some bluegrass music. Tomorrow we go into the office again. I'm writing a videogame for the Presbyterian Church's assembly next month. Ann is working on articles and setting up the fair trade program. And we're both working on some changes to RELUFA's website. There hasn't been much new to tell lately, but we'll be doing some traveling next month when Ann's folks come to visit, to the mountains in the west. And I'll try to get some pictures up soon. There is plenty more excitement to come.

Monday, May 12, 2008

church, braids, beasties links

I stayed home, a little under the weather yesterday morning, while Ann went to church with Karen. Karen got some pictures and wrote up a blog post about the experience. So if you're curious about Ann's trip to church yesterday, check it out here.

Also, Mandi is a SIL pilot here. She recently participated in an airborne wildlife survey, and got some fun pictures. That's here.

She also got her hair braided, a five-hour procedure here that a few other friends have gone through as well. That's here.

Fellow ultimate frisbee player Brad really liked Mandi's hair. I'm encouraging him to get his done, along with his beard. He'd look like a Babylonian king.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

internet outage

My family had a moped when I was a kid, a yellow Motobecane (a French brand) that looked like a little 50cc motorcycle. It had wire side-baskets. My Mom used it to go to the grocery store sometimes, a brown grocery bag in each basket as she zoomed home in a white 3/4 "jet-pilot" helmet. A few years later I used it for my paper route. You couldn't really get all the Sunday papers for the route in those 2 baskets, but you could jam quite a few in there, and it sure beat carrying all of them on your back. My Dad (who to his everlasting credit would get up on Sundays and help me out with deliveries) has a friend who thanks his years working for the postal service for his back trouble; I sometimes wonder if my slouchy posture owes something to the Sunday edition of the Grand Rapids Press.

The moped developed a compression problem with its little one-cylinder, 2-cycle engine. You had to pedal to start the thing up, and eventually it wouldn't start. But I discovered by experimenting with it that I could still get it started if I rotated the flywheel with my hand to the point of maximum resistance. No idea why this worked, but it did.

I was thinking about that moped today. I got up here to CTC to use the internet, and the proxy server is down. My browser tells me that the proxy server is refusing connections. This has been a problem on and off here for several days. Email still works, so I'm posting this via email. But the net is down.

Or mostly down, anyway. I immediately tried bypassing the proxy server and connecting directly to the net, but that didn't work. And then, on a whim, I tried connecting to with https instead of http. And it went through. So, oddly, http won't work with the proxy but https will. Almost nothing on the net that I use requires https (a higher-security protocol most often used for passwords and purchases), but it turns out that a little bit of facebook does.

Rotate the flywheel a bit. Who knows? It might work.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

two recipes

A propos of nothing in particular...

1. Egg sandwiches, as sold up the street by a Senegalese guy who runs a little store. No idea if any Africans eat these, but he sells lots of them to the expats who work for SIL nearby.

- cooked spaghetti noodles
- one or two eggs
- large hamburger roll (aka "gateau" en Francais)
- Maggi seasoning cube (a combination of MSG, spices and perhaps some dried bouillon)

to prepare:
- reheat noodles in a small skillet with a little oil
- crumble Maggi cube into noodles
- break eggs into noodles and scramble together
- when eggs finished, scoop final product onto roll

wrap in small black plastic bag, sell for 400 central African francs, a bit less than a US dollar.

Very tasty. Size varies a bit; the guy working today makes them a bit smaller, about the size of a big restaurant hamburger. The usual guy, who I think is the owner, makes them about the size of a Chicago softball.

2. Folere smoothies

- 1 liter folere (a cold sweetened beverage made by boiling dried hibiscus flowers with sugar)
- 2 trays ice cubes (made with filtered water)
- 1 cup sweetened ginger beverage (contains lots of pureed ginger, sugar and some water)
[update: also 1 mango, diced; thanks for the reminder, LR!]

to prepare: mix in blender and serve

These are really, really good. We found the ginger beverage at Mahima, the grocery store downtown. Julia makes folere every week or two. It's pronounced fo-luh-ray, and actually has accents on one or more of the e's when correctly spelled.

There's a sweetened yogurt beverage here, also sold at the egg-sandwich place, called khosam. Next time we'll probably throw some of that in the smoothies too.

Food is love. Or a kind of love, anyway.

Ann and Karen enjoy folere-ginger smoothies
photo credit: the Laughing Rover

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

portraits from the north

Here are a few of the people we met up north on our recent trip.

Monday, May 5, 2008


I finished reading all of African Friends and Money Matters, by David Marantz, which Kate, Brian and Dave were kind enough to include in their January shipment to us of things we neglected to bring. It was published by SIL, but nobody here had a copy handy.

The book explores lots of topics, but the title gives some clues about where Westerners often run into trouble in Africa. It's been helpful to me in understanding some unfamiliar and difficult things. If you like the book, you can find it on Amazon. It was recommended by a friend who worked in Zambia for awhile as the one essential thing to read before living here as a Westerner. I second that.

Interpersonal relations between Africans and Westerners in Africa may be friendly and even cordial, and typically are, but developing significant friendships on a personal level requires considerable effort. For many Africans it is difficult to forget history, the relationships of power that the white man represented and still represents, the economic disparities, the color of skin, and perhaps above all the great cultural differences. Of these the most significant one is the important place that material resources are given in African friendships.

25. [for Africans] A network a friends is a network of resources. A disinterested friendship is something without sense. It is only natural to expect material benefit from friendships. To a Westerner this comes close to buying friendship, or of seeking and having friends for what one can get out of them.

25W. Disinterested friendship is the ideal in the West. Any friendship that includes material considerations is suspect.

It is helpful to consider several factors that lead to the [Westerner's] doubt about relationships. First, when these questions arise, it is good to remember that the Westerner and the African live on very different socioeconomic levels, with the African considering the Westerner to be rich and himself to be poor, with much cultural behavior flowing from these differences. Second, many Africans are ready to use casual meetings or acquaintances as a means to gain personal profit.... Very different relationships can be built with [affluent Africans] as socioeconomic equals. In these relationships it is often the African who represent higher economic and social classes than do the Westerners.

-- however --

28. Visiting [by Africans] is concentrated on friends and acquaintances who are actively part of a person's economic network.


29. Most [social] networking [by Africans] is done horizontally or "up" and seldom "down" socially or economically.

So opportunities for egalitarian relationships, which is to say a real personal friendship in Western terms, are rare.

This may seem cold written out on the page like this. But it's a fact of life here, and something I've been struggling with a lot lately. Ann doesn't, much, except on my behalf. We have very different personal boundaries, and some of what we want from this trip differs as well. Plus I'm male, 6'4" tall, my hair buzzed short for comfort in the heat, and older than she is, so perhaps we elicit different expectations. People who look like me have the power and the money, to be blunt, and Ann is a woman, which here tends to mean not much of either, alas.

I'm clear on why I'm here and what I'm doing, but I'm often unclear on how to respond to people on an individual level, especially people with whom I don't already share a work or social context. People here have lots and lots of friends, according to Maranz, and are always trying to enlarge their circle of acquaintances, especially upwards as clients to patrons from whom they can benefit materially, relationships then maintained by frequent and unannounced home visits (something mercifully rare in our experience). I tend to take my time getting to know people past a certain point of cordiality, I value my privacy, and I avoid people who take advantage of my friendliness to impose on me.

I am a bad fit for Africa. The positive way to formulate this insight is that I have a lot to learn from living here.

None of this is a shock to me. I have been to Africa before, and I at least skimmed Maranz's book before we came here in October, so I had some idea of how it would be. Our work relationships at RELUFA are friendly partnerships free of these misunderstandings. And Ann is untroubled by this. But it's still perplexing for me to know how to just accept all this, and to know how to deal with people when it comes up. But if the Devil's in the details, God is too.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


We do a lot of reading here, especially me; you can see the list over on the right-hand sidebar if you scroll down a bit. It wasn't really the point of the trip to come here and read, but we have a wonderfully flexible schedule and more time here than at home, and it is one of the best things in life, after all.

Africa is less a wilderness than a repository of primary and fundamental values, and less a barbaric land than an unfamiliar voice. (Beryl Markham, West with the Night, 1942)

Our friend David recommended Markham's memoir and loaned it to me. He and his wife Danielle have just left town. We were just getting to know them, and were sorry to see them go. They went up north, and are not planning on returning to Yaounde when they leave later this year, so we may not get to see them again. The transient nature of the SIL community is like our urban San Francisco church, where people come and go like this, sometimes (it seems) in almost no time at all.

Some of our friends back home are having a rough time right now, and one of them mailed something around that I really liked:

When we honestly ask which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness... makes it clear that whatever happens in the external world, being present to each other is what really matters. (Henri J.M. Nouwen)

Whatever else we're accomplishing here, or not, we're present, for a little while anyway.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

flight home from the north

Here are some photos from our flight home from Maroua last week.

Ann rode in the front on the way home.

And here are a few pictures out the window of landscapes in Cameroon's Extreme North:

We flew through a curtain of rain, in between two thunderstorms, on the way to our fuel stop in Ngaoundere.

This next surreal photo is looking down on the airstrip in Ngaoundere. That's a herd of cattle being shooed off the runway for our approaching plane:

And here are a few last ones I shot flying into Yaounde:

And landing:

Since the photos on the blog are so tiny, I might clip out some portraits of the people we met as well, just the faces, and post a few of those sometime soon.

Elsewhere in the news, besides being back from the north, we had a good meeting with Valerie at work this week and decided to go into the office every Monday, so people there know when to find us. Ann continues to work on fair trade research and article writing, and I'm working on the microfinance program database, an Excel training session (in French, ulp!), and may be doing some web design work, which is always fun. Our social life here on the SIL end of town where we live is a continuing pleasure; last night we had David and Danielle and Karen over for dinner; D&D brought gazpacho, Karen brought smoothie fixins', Ann made a salad and I brewed coffee and did dishes and talked a lot. We talked about books and food and the boat D&D lived on for a year back in the states and friends and things we love and hate about Cameroon for hours and hours, blissfully ignorant of the time in a way we never seem to be back home.