Wednesday, January 30, 2008

house pics

Here's a few pictures of our place in Yaounde. We hired Isaac (that's
his red car) to cut the grass, and he also nailed some wire to the
planks that bridge the gutter on the street outside, so that they would
not be stolen for firewood. Loyal dog Villa was outside, and I managed
to get a picture of her when she wasn't jumping on me. The tank is an
extra water supply, connected to the city pipe, that kicks in if the
city supply cuts off. It's elevated to provide some pressure. There's
even a basketball court, and a concrete barbecue off in the far corner
of the yard, but they're not in working condition. And there's a swamp
behind the backyard, so we have a moat.

Our moat, the swamp. No dragons, but the undergrowth in there is too thick to see into or traverse, so there may be some small or very discreet ones in there somewhere.

Basketball hoop and BBQ, from earlier residents. The court surface has been ruined by a tree root, so it hasn't been used in awhile. Ray claims to plan on refurbishing both when he returns in the summer. It's no loss for us; I don't play basketball, and Ann prefers vegetables.

The bookaroo, or perhaps boukarou. A concrete gazebo with a Gilligan's Island roof. It looks dark but is actually light and comfortable inside, brighter than the house during the day, with a great view of the neighborhood and a nice breeze. I plan to spend more time in there doing things like drinking coffee and reading.

The in-law/dependance unit, with a freshly-cut lawn in front.

Bridge repair with additional theft-prevention security measures. Thanks, Isaac!

The house, Isaac's car, fresh-cut lawn.

Villa, another theft-prevention measure.

Home security, Yaounde style.

Water supply, in case the city cuts its own for a long time.

Monday, January 28, 2008

pics from Kribi last week

Here are a few pictures from our trip to Kribi last week. It was the third time, but the first one was with the churchmen of the EPC and entailed no beach time. The second one was a pleasure trip with friends from work at the end of December, but Ann got food poisoning on our anniversary (29th) while we were there. But the third time's the charm. We had an exciting bus ride (see last post), and spend three days and two nights kicking back, enjoying the company of our friends and coworkers Christi and Jeff and their kids, hanging out on the beach, swimming and eating seafood.

Ann on the beach.

A shot of the beach at Kribi.

There was a bougainvillea fifty feet high right outside the door of our cabin. It wouldn't fit in one picture. Note small Ann for scale. I actually lay on my back to take it all in one picture, but was immediately attacked by ants. Don't lie on the ground until you make sure you're not about to crush someone's house. Fortunately, the ants didn't bite very hard.

Christi enjoying a hammock at the beach.

This is a crab burrow. The beach was scattered with them, and when you got near the crabs they would hop in, then poke out again when you went by. This one is about two inches in diameter.

Christi at the dinner table on the beach. From top, fish, shrimp, tomato sauce and fried breadfruit. Not pictured are the hot sauce and beer. Shrimp and fish had to be disassembled by hand, which was messy and lots of fun.

Close-up of the fish. These were grilled with some kind of marinade, after being caught that day. They had a grilled, smoky, seasoned but not picante flavor. I've never been much of a seafood fan, aside from sushi, but the fresh fish here is delicious. It doesn't taste fishy. The bones in this variety weren't much trouble either.

This is where we stayed. It's up a small hill from the ocean, which you can see from the porch. The building has two units connected inside. The smaller one on the right is where Ann and I stayed, and Christi and Jeff and their kids were on the left which, in spite of how this angle makes it look, is actually the bigger one. Each unit has a kitchen, bedroom, and extra sleeping loft.

I didn't get a picture of it, but the water filter in our unit was simple and nifty. It was a four-food length of PVC pipe with a single ceramic water-filter "candle" on the bottom. You filled it up with a few pitchers of tap water, with a bottle underneath to catch the outflow, and gravity forced the water through the filter at a good clip. Jeff says he plans to build one of these.

This is Jeff.

Ann and the kids.

And again.

This is some kind of oil platform far out in the water, several kilometers. The plumes of flame came and went regularly. It was a little piece of Gary, Indiana offshore from idyllic Kribi.

Motorcycle with slogan. Lots of motorcycles and especially taxis have things like this written on them.

Took this at our house in Yaounde. Our dog Villa sleeps like this. Ann refers to it as paws-up-the-wall-pose.

Kids and Jeff hanging out on the beach, with the forest behind them.

This was our beach hangout and restaurant. The small smoky piece on the left is the kitchen, with the table under the shelter to its right. The ocean is about fifty feet behind the camera here.

Ann collected some shells.

Your photographer and the lovely and talented Ann.

Friday, January 25, 2008

bus to Kribi

Our friends and coworkers Jeff and Christi, and their kids, invited us
to go to Kribi with them this week for a few days before their kids
start school again next week. Since they have an SUV that seats five,
and there were six of us total, Ann and I took the bus.

This was our second trip by bus here in Cameroon. I'm not sure whether
I described the experience before, but it's certainly noteworthy, coming
from an American perspective. Not unlike church and other scheduled
events here, the notion of a timetable for a bus is somewhat nebulous.
Our new house is about a mile from where the buses leave town to head
south, so we left the house about 815am to hike to the bus on
Wednesday. We had been told the buses left at 730, 930 and 1130, so by
9am we were seated in the bus, ticket in hand. It left, of course, when
it was full, in this case shortly before 11am.

And full, of course, is a relative term. It means something different
here. The bus itself had maybe six rows, plus the driver and a
passenger seat. Each row was what in the US would be a two-person seat
on one side of the aisle, a single seat on the other side, and a
fold-down jumpseat on the aisle itself. You can sit four people across
in a row like this, but snugly, especially if they have hand luggage, as
we did with our backpacks.

Here in Cameroon, perhaps in Africa in general from what I've heard,
this snug four-person row seats five people. The fifth guy, mercifully
not very big, plopped down on top of my legs and the guy to my right,
and wiggled a big until he was on the seat. I could feel our hip-bones
amiably grinding together. Later, the lurching, bouncing motion of the
bus, especially in the back where we happened to sit, settled everyone
in like a pile of beans in a sack.

Nobody minds this; it's perfectly normal here, and not an occasion for
complaint or aggression on anyone's part. People also accepted most of
the two-hour wait without comment or apparent discomfort, until near the
end, when a couple of cheerful younger guys started yelling for the
driver, whom (if my French is correct here) they accused of watching the
replay of the last night's Africa cup match on TV. (Cameroon lost, alas).

So, after a two-hour wait, our three-and-a-half-hour bus ride to Kribi
began. My backpack, a Java One bag from a few years ago, has a frame
and wheels, so it's not really suited to carrying on your lap for
several hours, especially full of clothing, toiletries, water, etc.
I'll buy a soft bag before the next trip to spare my legs. The ride was
lengthened by the occasional stop to let off a passenger before the
Kribi terminal, somewhere along the road. But there were no breaks
whatsoever; no stops to let people off to walk around or relieve
themselves. And nobody seemed to need it, judging by their
indifference. It was about seven hours between restrooms, but I was
ready for this after our last, somewhat shorter trip to Sangmelima last
month. I am now careful to dehydrate myself before bus trips so this
doesn't become excruciating.

It's all part of the experience here, like having your papers checked by
guys with assault rifles on your way home at night in a cab, or being
offered roasted civet cat for dinner, cooked by having the hair burned
off and then roasted. Normal seems very different here in some ways,
especially in terms of people's sense of time and personal space.

The thing that can make a bus trip like this comfortable for an American
unused to it is either Ann's solution, which is simply to be untroubled
and comfortable regardless of how different it is, or my solution, which
is a novel of a thousand pages, guaranteed not to run out while the trip
lasts. That, and making sure not to have more than one cup of coffee

We rode back with Jeff and Christi and the kids in their SUV. I curled
up in the back seat among the luggage and had a fine time chewing
through 200 or so pages of James Michener novel.

I'll put up a few pictures of the beach next week. As before, Kribi is
unbearably gorgeous, with Hawaii's climate, quiet places to stay right
next to the ocean, and the tastiest fish I've ever had, along with
shrimp, breadfruit, hot sauce and beer. We had a great time with
Christi, Jeff and their kids hanging out, eating, swimming, and playing
some of the games they brought. I'd do it all again in a minute.

Monday, January 21, 2008


We accepted a social invitation for Sunday. The plan was a 9:30am
French-language service at a Cameroonian church followed by a visit to
someone's house. What transpired, instead, was attendance at the
nominally-10:30 service (which started closer to 11am) in Bulu, a
Cameroonian language. This got out at 2pm. Then we hiked up the hill
for the visit, and ended up late for our other Sunday plans at 4pm.

The lesson here is that you get to plan one thing a day in Africa, and
then see what happens. Planning more than one thing a day is
foolhardy. People are not too worried about scheduling out here.
Things happen when they happen.

We enjoyed the service. The Cameroonian who invited us had thoughtfully
brought along some English-language materials for us to follow the
readings and music. There was a lot of music, some of it African
melodies and some familiar Protestant hymns, all of it sung in Bulu and
accompanied by a digital keyboard pipe organ. It was all sung with
gusto by the choir (several choirs, actually), who danced along, or by
all of the hundreds of people in the large church. The preacher talked
for maybe half an hour, and although we couldn't understand a word, it
was clear watching and listening to him that he was an effective
speaker, as he used his voice and his body to hold the crowd.

Three and a half hours is a bit long for us, so I don't think we'll go
back. But I'm glad we went.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

work news

Chris here. My plan for work in Cameroon was to develop a database for
the RELUFA's microloan program. Some of RELUFA's member NGOs loan small
amounts of money to people and groups to start and run small
businesses. The project include raising animals (including something
like a guinea pig, called a hydrax, as well as goats and sheep and
pigs), running a food stand with beignets or grilled meat or fruit
juice, vending produce obtained in the country, drying fruits and
vegetables, even making bricks.

So I've been working on the system since I got here, and it's almost
done. We meet today to discuss what's next. I've built something (with
Java, Hibernate, JavDB and GWT, for the tech folks who may be reading)
that displays the data, allows editing, and saves it. The next step is
adding new clients to the database, and providing search features, which
should go quickly now that something is running. Valery asked me to
demo it to the RELUFA general assembly at the end of the month.

I mentioned today to Christi that I am not working at 100% capacity
(I've never had so much sleep for so long, as an adult), and she asked
me about maybe working on another project. I may be writing a small
online videogame! Christi has developed, along with some other people,
a boardgame about going to school in Africa, to illustrate the rocky
path to university studies faced by people here who want to get an
education. She showed me some of the artwork today, and it's all based
on photos of people, along with explanatory text that slowly reveals the
impediments to getting an education faced by many Africans. The
mechanics of the game are straightforward, just moving around the board
with dice.

So it's well-defined, and the artwork is professional, thanks to an
artist they hired. So it seems like a good candidate for turning into a
web-based game, which is what they want. It will be public if we do put
it together, so I'll pass on the link if we eventually get something built.

For now, if you're a developer (hi Leon, hi Wilson), please share any
opinions you may have about how best to do this. I can take a crack at
it in Java, of course. But I'm wondering whether there's a good
framework for such things. And I'm also curious how hard it would be to
get my hands on Flash, learn it, and put something together that way.

Monday, January 14, 2008

anniversary in Kribi

Here are a few pics from Kribi, the coastal resort town three hours from Yaounde. Some coworkers invited us down with them for the weekend before New Years'. We stayed at a hotel, swam, saw the waterfalls, went out for dinner. Ann got food poisoning the night of our anniversary, and the power and water went out in the room, so she had no air conditioning or running toilet. But they found us a new room the next day, and she started feeling better. The ocean was about 70 degrees, and the waves were high enough (~1 meter) to do a little body-surfing. You can see fishermen in dugout canoes on the water, and further out, tankers refueling at the offshore oil pipeline terminus. It's beautiful and hot with a steady ocean breeze.

The beach at Kribi near the waterfalls, in the afternoon, with fishermen's dugout canoes.

Our journalist friend Fanny on the beach with Ann.

Valery and his son Imaan, on the beach with Ann.

Surly me, in front of the waterfalls.

The hotel room, and our first use of the mosquito net we bought in San Francisco for this trip, since our places in Yaounde both had them already. This net is treated with a nasty chemical called promethrin. I woke up with my face close to the net, having dreamed I was trapped in a room with smokers. But there's malaria in Kribi, so the net is a good idea.

Valery, Imaan and Terri. Valery is RELUFA's coordinator (essentially the director). Terri is American, and also does environmental development work for another organization. Imaan is currently unemployed. They had us over to their place for New Years' Eve right after this trip. They have invited us over every so often since we've gotten here, and Valery checks in with us at work regularly to see how we're doing. We try to repay him for this by making ourselves useful; I set up a wireless network for the office last Friday.

Kribi, near sunset.

Our new place, on the south side of town, in quartier Mvan. The small building at left with the water tank on it is the in-law unit, or dependance in French. There's a Cameroonian guy (named Guy) living in there now. We may live there ourselves the last two months of the trip, when our friends come back to Cameroon and move back into their house.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

why so quiet?

Well into the New Year of 2008, we have still posted little here in the
past few weeks. Thanks for checking in anyway, if you're reading this.
I promise to get some pictures up soon, along with a bit more narrative
about what we've been up to. The short version is that we went to the
beach over New Years' weekend, were out most of that week, and have
moved across town to house-sit for some out of town friends. We haven't
been at the office much, and some days we work from home, and don't have
internet there yet.

Things are settling down again, though. Jeff and Christi are back here
with their two school-age kids -- it was their house we lived in til
now. They are the ones who offered us volunteer work here with the
organizations they're with, so we expect to be working with them. Our
friends Ann and Ray have left town with their kids on furlough til July,
and it's their house we live in now. We hope to go up north this spring
with some visiting ex-pats, to see what the hot arid north looks like
and to get a look at RELUFA's food bank program first hand. We might
head to the coast to watch the marathon up Mt. Cameroon in February.
French is still hard. Everyone we work with or see regularly is still
friendly and helpful. We live near a lot of mission workers and a
missionary school now, so there are a lot of English speakers in our new
neighborhood. We're taking dance lessons with some of them. We watched
a Columbo DVD last night.

More soon! Peace and love in the New Year!