Sunday, August 31, 2008

Welcome, baby Grace!

This past Monday, August 25, Grace Mambo Zama was born. (She started out as Glory, but the relatives re-named her Grace. A fine thing, either way.)

Here she is with her parents, our friends Julia and Isaac. After twelve years of marriage and no children, Julia and Isaac thought they might never have a child. But near the beginning of 2008, they found out Julia was pregnant, a surprise and a miracle.

Here she is in her fancy crib, with her beautiful blanket. She's very tiny, and was sleeping the whole time we visited this afternoon, only opening her eyes a few times and quickly closing them again. She was all bundled up in some cute little clothing, a sweater that was giant on her, and her little hat, not to mention her blanket. That's one warm baby!

Her hair is so soft and curly, and she already looks a bit like her dad. During the two hours or so that we were there, various other people also came and went to visit her and her parents. There are lots of people who are very excited that she's here. Welcome to the world, baby Grace!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

La Vie au Village, Part 1

(by Ann)

Two weeks ago, I got on a crowded Cameroonian bus headed west, and stepped off several hours later across from the pointed tin roofs of Chefferie Bafou. I was here to spend a few days with Nancy and Gretchen, SIL friends of ours who live and work in Bafou, and get a little taste of village life.

My very first experience was the tail end of a special service at the church where Nancy and Gretchen attend, a commemoration of the deaths of family members in the church followed by a meal. She snuck me in during the offering, while the choir led everyone in an especially animated series of songs and one of the pastors got up and joined the dancing, much to everyone's delight.

I particularly appreciated this mama, banging away at that large drum while holding her little one. The singing was great, particularly a song (Kwa' Atsék) performed by many friends of Gretchen and Nancy in the local language, Yemba.

After the service and before the meal, everyone lined up for photographs. Look at all those pastors in their long black robes and frilly little collars. (The white-skinned man is albino, not uncommon in Cameroon.)

My attention was, of course, attracted by this cute baby…

…And by this girl's fine silver pants with pink fur trim. She has surely never even heard of burning man. Nancy introduced me to many of their friends, we ate fish and plantains with everyone, and we stayed a bit longer and socialized at the pastor's house, where there was another rousing performance of Kwa' Atsék and an unfortunate accident involving a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label whiskey. I tell you, these church people know how to live it up.

By the time we headed home, the sun was setting exquisitely across the hills.

Nancy and Gretchen have been working with the people of Bafou on the Yemba language since their arrival 25 years ago. They are now known to many people in the large village, have a small translation team working steadily with them on various projects, and are quite comfortable in Yemba (not to mention French, English, and snippets of various other Cameroonian languages).

Here's Nancy working with two of their main language helpers, Micheline and Brigitte. They are working through a Yemba translation of a folk tale about a rat and a squirrel. Yemba is a very tonal language, so as they examine words and phrases, they actually sing little melodies back and forth. It's fascinating.

An example of a page from another illustrated storybook. Yemba has various sounds not present in English, so there are additional characters in its alphabet. I had trouble sounding things out, and even the word 'thank you' has four distinct parts and a couple different tones. Yikes!

Gretchen and Nancy employ Sylviane to help them with housework. She comes every weekday morning and helps with dishes, laundry, cleaning, etc while the ladies do their language work. She invited us to a special mass and celebration commemorating the death of her mother several years ago.

In Bafou, traditional 'chefferie' style pointed roofs are popular, and our friends' landlord had stuck a couple peaks atop N & G's carport, complete with decorative stars. The ladies denied any official 'chief' status for them or their vehicle, and insist the fancy roof was there prior to their tenancy.
The main gate of a very large compound nearby, affectionately dubbed 'Disneyland.' I was somewhat surprised that no fairy princesses emerged at any time during our visit.

The landscape is a series of ridges and valleys, green and rolling. Goat hill, thusly known because many people tether their goats there, is a short and lovely walk from N & G's house, and climbers are rewarded with sweeping vistas of the surrounding countryside.

Stay tuned for part 2, wherein Chris and Ann climb Goat Hill, Chris does yardwork with a machete, and Ann attends a funeral!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

the day to day

We are back safely from our village trip. Ann will post something about that soon, with pictures, so I won't right now. We have five weeks left in our year in Cameroon, which is a bit less than a full year due to the vagaries of visa extensions, but we left San Francisco in mid-October 2007, and intend to return mid-October 2008. I have website and database work to complete before then, and Ann is working on a photo book about some of our NGO's clients and some translating and editing work, and we have both been asked to put together an assessment of our year volunteering at RELUFA. That last one should also lead to an interesting blog post, although we probably can't publish it verbatim.

Life here continues to pick up speed. We socialize with our neighbors, and had Gretchen and Nancy, our hosts for our village trip in the west, over to dinner tonight. Ann made her Thai peanut sauce; we served it over vegetables and rice, with chocolate chip cookies I made for dessert. Our friends the Kapteyns are back in Cameroon; today Ray and I had a couple of beers and talked about life here while he worked on a plumbing project. I had no idea that you seal galvanized steel pipe joints with jute, did you? Just wind it around the threading and dip in water. We'll see if it holds; Ray was apprehensive.

I've been helping out the computer department at Rain Forest school a bit, because they have lost some staff and are buried with work right now, so I'll do that tomorrow. I'm also a volunteer librarian at a reading room here, which amounts to shelving books once a week. Lots of good reading in there, too -- many of the books on our list at right come from that reading room, and I just brought home a copy of City of Joy, about life in Calcutta. I also picked up an interesting-looking book in the Rain Forest school library about the German presence in Cameroon, roughly from the 1880s through the first World War, written by someone from Yale in the 1930s.

We have no plans for further travel in Cameroon, at least not extensive travel outside of Yaounde. It looks like we'll spend our remaining weeks here winding down our projects, spending time with our friends, and preparing for three weeks in Europe. A break between Africa and home in San Francisco seems like a good idea. Our first stop is Brussels, when we leave here at the end of September.

And here are a few pictures from a get-together for Christy's birthday, a few nights ago, at Lois and Julia's apartment downstairs.

The birthday girl. With lasagna!

Me and our next-door neighbor Beth.

Zone and Raf ham it up for the camera.

Friend and neighbor Liz, making ice cream.

Ann shot this of the moon out the window.

Us at the party. Ann buzzed my hair a couple of weeks ago.

Finally, one not from the party; Ray decided to put a new window in the house when they got back to Cameroon. He's a whirlwind of home improvement.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

RELUFA's work

Most of our blog has been about our own experience here living in Cameroon, along with pictures, for friends and family. But beyond simply living here, we spend a fair amount of our time working for a Cameroonian NGO network called RELUFA. Some of RELUFA's support comes from Joining Hands, a mission of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA). So Ann and I are officially Presbyterian volunteers.

Christiana, a RELUFA coworker, has been reading some interesting books related to RELUFA's work lately, and has offered to loan some to me. I just finished reading one of them, a stern indictment of the international aid industry entitled The Lords of Poverty. The book ends with the hope that "it will become possible for people to rediscover ways to 'help' one another directly according to their needs and aspirations as they themselves define them, in line with priorities that they themselves have set, and guided by their own agendas." This seems to be very much in the spirit of the work of Joining Hands. If you're curious, you can read the Joining Hands mission statement here.

You can read about RELUFA's recent activities in the Cameroon section of the latest Joining Hands newsletter, prepared by our friend and coworker Christi Boyd, the Joining Hands Companionship Facilitator here in Cameroon. It describes:

  • efforts to get the PCUSA to officially join the Publish What You Pay campaign, which works to get multinationals in the oil, gas and mining businesses to publish their financial transactions and contracts, and why this effort matters
  • a review of the environmental impact of the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline project, and efforts to get the oil companies to meet their obligations to communities that have lost their drinking water as a result
  • RELUFA's new fair trade program, with Partners for Just Trade
  • the recent workshop on campaign organizing for peaceful social change (I missed most of this, daunted by the prospect of all that discussion and my own limited French, but now regret it)
  • one Cameroonian fruit dryer's encounter with EU bureaucrats
These are just a few of the efforts that our work here supports, directly or indirectly. We've been working for RELUFA for almost a year now, writing articles and software and working on web design. Some of our work is for programs that didn't even get mentioned in this issue of the newsletter because there's so much other activity to report. And RELUFA is continuing to expand in the areas of fair trade and revenue transparency, and looking for opportunities to expand its microfinance program as well, all in the interest of its mission to alleviate hunger, poverty and social injustice in Cameroon.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

SIL branch picnic

We were invited on Sunday by our friends from SIL to attend the SIL branch picnic on Sunday. I've been doing a little helping out at SIL's Rain Forest International School with the computers, and we are now neighbors in the same building with many SIL folks, so we have several SIL friends now. The picnic was lots of fun. Here are a few pictures.

Ann reads on the couch before the picnic, with an assistant. Bert the cat has now left the building. His owner, Ginger, picked him up today. We are now almost pet-free for the first time since we left San Francisco. We do still check in on the Kapteyns' dog faithfully, til they get back, but we don't live with her anymore either.

Picnic time at Rain Forest International School.

Ann with Charlene and Fabienne, being fabulous together.

Our neighbor and friend Christi, who shared her food with us. I grilled that pan of delicious halal garlic sausage shortly after taking this picture, along with the layer of burgers hidden beneath it.

Me with another neighbor of ours, Julia, who lives downstairs with Lois. The classic hold-out-your-arm self-portrait, which worked out pretty well in this case.

The grills. That's Daryl the pilot in the blue shirt, who works with our friend Ray.

Friend and neighbor Liz (at left) checks the progress of her burger. Charlene's husband Michael is in the white shirt at right.

Shirley and her daughter. Shirley lives around the corner. Guy, who lives in the dependance we were going to move into at the Kapteyns, studies English with her. We often see her outside after a heavy rain, filling in ruts in the dirt road with a shovel. We play frisbee with her kids sometimes. They run like the wind.

Liz, Ruth and Ann. Ruth just sprained her ankle, undoubtedly complicating her new position as Rain Forest's PE teacher. Ann is about to enjoy some dessert from the well-stocked dessert table just out of frame to the left.

Lois (at left), the director of Rain Forest, and our downstairs neighbor.

Bert and Wilma. Ann would go running with their daughter when she was in town. We've played boardgames with Bert and Wilma, like Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan (a favorite here), and Bert seems to win pretty much all the time.

We'll be heading off to the west on Saturday to spend a week in a village, something we haven't managed to do until now. We're staying with a couple of SIL linguists, and may get to help out with their projects a bit. And we're starting to wind down our affairs here in Cameroon, and prepare to leave toward the end of next month. As we continue to settle in, and get busy preparing to leave, time is accelerating again, but it's still going nowhere near as fast as it does back home.