Thursday, February 28, 2013

Meetings in Baboua

Wow!  I can say that it has been a busy, but pretty mundane week!  Hurrah!  I can tell you about some of it, but there are few pictures.  I did take one of me working in the office in my house in Baboua and my bed (!)

Monday Greg Nelson and his son Eric arrived in Garoua Boulai from Yaoundé.  Greg works with ELCA missionaries, but usually in the US.  He came to see some of us “in the field” to better understand our life and work.  Also on Monday, Anne Langdji arrived from a visit to N’gaoundéré.  I made dinner – see? I said it was mundane! 

We all went to the morning meditation at the Bible School (that trains catechists) in Garoua Boulai.  After meeting with Greg and talking to Anne and President Golike (of the national Lutheran church in CAR who stopped by on his way to Yaoundé for a meeting), I left for CAR.

I am happy to report that I had no trouble getting across the border.  I was welcomed back to the station in Baboua with open arms; everyone was excited to see me.  I met the people who work in my house and in the Troesters’ house next door.  Then I walked to the offices of the Village School Program and Christian Education – both also on the station.  En route, I saw the station guards and several other people who work here.  How gratifying to know that they were awaiting my (our) return as much as I was.

I was able to meet with some people from both programs on Tues. at least for a bit.  Wednesday the Christian Education Strategic Planning Committee (wow, that’s a mouthful) met all morning.  We were discussing and furthering planning we had started together in December.  We were able to complete the entire agenda (covering many aspects of our work) and then share a meal together (that was prepared by the director’s wife and some other women).

In the afternoon I taught a computer lesson to the Director and Curriculum Coach for the Village School Program.  They will now practice opening a Word document and writing a letter or other file (and of course saving it…).  They are pleased to gain the knowledge and are picking things up well.

Thursday, I spent the morning with the Director and Curriculum Coach again.  The Community Developer was to be there, but plans to move the family of one of the directors of a school were delayed and then took longer than anticipated – life in Africa!  (Well, life in the US is like that too, sometimes, but not quite as often…)  We reviewed much of our work so far in 2013 and planned for March.  We also talked about accounting and how to keep track of what we are spending – always a challenge!

The EEL-RCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in CAR – French version) has three “volets.”  That’s French for wings, but in this case would probably be translated as divisions.  They are Evangelism, Education, and Diaconia.  The Village School program, and Christian Education, of course, are part of Education (in French – Volet de Formation).  Twice a year this division has a church-wide meeting.  That meeting will be held tomorrow.  We will talk about what has happened, plans for the future, and other issues such as nominating scholarship applicants.  Fortunately for me, the meeting is in Baboua (which makes sense since my two programs are here as are the Bible School and Theological School). 

At noon tomorrow I am on the road again.  This travel has been planned for several months.  All the ELCA missionaries working in Cameroon and CAR are having a retreat for 2 ½ days in Kribi (a town on the Atlantic coast of Cameroon).  We are fortunate that Greg Nelson will be there as will Rev. Dr. Andrea Walker, the new West (and Central) Africa Program Director.

On March 5, some people will be returning to work (including Greg back to the US and Andrea & Anne to Senegal) while 6 of us will be going on to Mutengene – further up the coast away from Douala – for a Bible Storytelling Seminar.  It is organized by the Covenant Church and I have heard great things about it.  (More on that after the fact…)

We are planning to visit Limbi on Saturday (a beach with black volcanic sand) before returning to Yaoundé Sunday.  If all goes well, all CAR missionaries will be back home by mid-March! 

Please continue to pray for stability in Central Africa and for a return to “normalcy.”  It is the people in towns that have been held by the rebels who have been most effected:  food prices are higher, food is less readily available, and many are still displaced. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Quick Trip to Baboua

I am going to Baboua!  On Tuesday, February 26 I will be going to Baboua for three days - two of which will be official meetings and the other a day when I can meet with my teammates from Christian Education and the Village School Program.  I am pleased to be going "home." 

I can't stay longer than that right now because there is a retreat for all ELCA missionaries and then a Bible Storytelling conference both along the Atlantic Coast.  (You can be sure that I will eventually write about those!)

All four of the ELCA missionaries will be returning to CAR in mid-March after the conference. 

Please continue to pray for a stable government and social supports for those in desperate need in the Central African Republic. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What Do You Eat?

 Food is such a part of daily life.  There are many aspects about buying and preparing food that we take for granted – until we change continents and cultures!  Recently, someone asked me to talk about what I eat here.  Well, a lot of that is influenced by what I ate in the US and, of course, foods that are available here.  (I am having trouble spacing pictures well. Please excuse that they don't match the text.) 

In the US my staple meal was beans and rice with whatever vegetables and spices I had on hand.  While I prepared mostly vegetarian meals there, I also prepared (often frozen) fish, turkey, or occasionally another meat.  I do the same here since I am preparing most of my own meals.  I rarely buy or prepare beef, fish, or chicken, but I have occasionally bought mackerel or tuna in cans.  (Call me a coward if you want – I am not sure how to buy the best meat in the market or to prepare it so that it is not just shoe leather-like.  These conditions have encouraged my trend toward vegetarianism...  When I eat food prepared by others, I do eat meat – see below.) 
mangoes, cabbage, millet, flags:
US, Cameroon, CAR

What can I find here that I am used to preparing?  Dried beans (red, black-eyed peas, some others), rice (white long-grain mostly, but several other white varieties are available in some places – I miss brown rice!), sweet potatoes, corn (dried or on the cob, but it is more like hominy than sweet corn most people in the US eat), yams (although these look very different – see picture), bread (a couple of types), tomatoes, and onions.  These have usually been available in all the towns where I have lived (Baboua, Bohong, Bouar, N’gaoundéré, Garoua Boulai, Yaoundé – an impressive list for 6 months!)  In all those places, I have also been able to buy raw peanuts, peanut butter, and often grilled peanuts.  What are less available are vegetables which people here had traditionally not eaten:  green peppers, celery, parsley, carrots, green beans, cabbage, spinach, squash, avocado (in season, which just ended) and okra, although I can find them in larger towns or, sometimes, on market days in smaller towns.  Some Africans have begun to eat these vegetables, so they are more widely available now than in the past.  (Two factors affecting the purchase of these vegetables are cost and developing a taste for them.)
sweet potatoes
parsley and celery

fat, sweet bananas

other bananas -
spots don't change the taste!

fruit boiled and used to make a juice
Bananas seem to be available all the time – various kinds.  The small, fat ones are very sweet.  The often have spots, but that doesn’t affect the taste!  Other fruits are seasonal:  oranges (although most of these that I have eaten are not very sweet), lemons, watermelon (small and round and delicious), mangoes (just coming into season), and others I don’t know by name.  Many places you can also buy plantains – the kind of bananas that must be cooked.  When ripe, they are very sweet.  When less ripe, they taste more like potatoes.  They can be pounded and made into a ball (like cous cous – see below) or cut into pieces and fried.   

veggies from the market

small yams that each feed me for days!

cleaning millet
Some people here eat millet regularly (often those from further north in both Cameroon and CAR).  Manioc root is often eaten as well, esp. in CAR.  Grains must be cleaned – picking out small stones, clumps of dirt, and maybe a few bugs.  They must also be washed to get the dust off.  Here’s a pictures of some millet I cleaned this morning.  On the left are the little “caps,” or stems.  In the middle are a couple of grains with their caps and on the right are those ready to be washed and cooked. 

Also, very commonly eaten are greens.  These can be manioc leaves or others grown in the reason – including squash leaves (in season).  Central Africans often prepare them with a peanut butter sauce (with a few tomatoes, salt, onions…).  In Cameroon they are prepared differently and are probably different leaves.  It is hard for me to ask questions about greens.  People willing tell me the names of things – in Sango or Gbaya (or maybe Fulfulde), but can’t give me a French equivalent.  Or, if they can tell me in French, I don’t know what it is in English!  My current practice is to buy what looks interesting in the market or to eat what is put in front of me. 

Meats are often tough because the animals are free-ranging.  Here’s a picture of beef “being grown.”  Beef is served with bone and gristle. Africans eat the latter and eat all the meat off the former. Fish is served with head and tail intact.  It may be grilled – my personal favorite – or cooked into a stew.  Fresh-water fish is what is most readily available.  In Yaoundé and closer to the coast, seafood is also available.

It is hard for me to say what Cameroonians or Central Africans eat on a regular basis.  When I am invited to eat, it is a special occasion.  Meat (usually beef or chicken) is always included to honor the guest.  It shows that they can afford to buy and offer the best (even if they can’t really afford it).  Most meats are prepared with lots of oil, onions, some tomatoes, other vegetables, and Maggie cubes (these are beef bouillon cubes that can be bought plain or with some tomato added).  While I prepare my food on a gas stove (with oven), most Africans here cook outside or in a separate kitchen building over a wood fire.  The little I have seen of this process is to boil the food in a kettle over a pretty high flame.  I think adjusting the flame is much more difficult over an open fire.  Those of you who camp and cook over fires would know more about this than I do.  For meals I have been offered, the women (yes, this is still primarily a woman’s job although some men, especially students, can also cook) also make rice, macaroni, and cous cous.  This last is what they call prepared manioc, corn, or yams.  They grind them up into flour and then add it to boiling water and stir.  They look like of like balls of bread dough, but the consistency is different (denser and less springy) and it doesn’t need to be baked to be eaten. 

Many Cameroonians and Central Africans eat one meal in the evenings.  They may have other snacks during the day.  Beignets are one choice.  They are round doughnut-like pastries that are fried in oil.  Grilled nuts, when available, are another good choice, as are bananas!  People also sell hard-boiled eggs with which you can get some powdered hot sauce. 

Macaroni, pasta, spaghetti sauce, canned vegetables, popcorn (not the microwave kind, of course, and what I bought doesn’t pop completely – more roughage for my system, right??), chocolate, jam, soda, soaps, shampoo, hand cream, toothpaste (OK, these last few aren’t foods, but I thought you’d like to know…), and lots of other canned goods/items are available in boutiques.  Market refers to open-air places where people sell what they have grown – a version of Farmers’ Markets we know in the US.  Yaoundé has a few supermarkets like those we have in the US.  Other towns and neighborhoods have small shops (boutiques) that sell these kinds of things.  Think Convenience Store, but not exactly.  Cameroonians and Central Africans shop in these stores, but buy less and avoid more expensive items. 

Many missionaries eat bread (in some form) or cereal for breakfast.  I don’t usually.  I often have food left over from an earlier meal.  (Anne told me last week that this is very African!  I did it in the US, too, sometimes.)  I also eat fruit and make tea or hot chocolate (from a powder).  Coffee and I have I like-hate relationship; I like good coffee a lot, but it makes me hyper and gives me headaches.  Avoiding it here is much easier since most people serve instant coffee.  (You can buy ground coffee, but most Africans don’t and I can easily not buy it.  I have instant coffee in the house to offer to visitors.) 

I try to eat my largest meal at lunch time.  As I said, I usually prepare for myself.  I hired someone to work in my house in Baboua – to clean and cook sometimes, but ten days after she started working for me, we were evacuated!  (She is currently keeping that house clean and in order.  And, the man I hired as gardener has been planting and caring for a large garden.  I should have fresh vegetables, etc. when I get back! Yeah.)  In the evenings I have something to drink, some fruit, and maybe some peanuts or left overs if I feel hungry, but often I don’t. 

There are some restaurants in towns, but not many.  Non-Africans tend to avoid many of them because we can’t be certain about how the food is prepared.  N’gaoundéré has a good restaurant often frequented by local and visiting missionaries – the Coffee Shop (which is actually a regular restaurant).  My favorite meal there is fish brochettes with fried plantains.  Yaoundé, of course, is a very large city with many great restaurants. 

kilichi from N'gaoundere
People also prepare some foods and sell them in the market or a small shop.  In N’gaoundéré a Fulfulde specialty is dried beef made with a peanut butter sauce.  Many stalls grill beef.  There are various other foods I have seen, but not tasted.  It is better for missionaries not to eat these “fast” foods because it is more likely that the water used to cook them was not clean or other, less sanitary practices are followed. 

Whew!  Did I cover everything?  Probably more than enough.  I guess it is time for me to go eat the meal that has been cooking as I write – millet, beans, tomato sauce, and peanut butter are the main ingredients.  It is my own concoction – want to join me???

Monday, February 18, 2013

Youth Week with Visitors

February 11 this year was Youth Day.  Well, Feb. 11 – 17 was Youth Week.  Or, maybe, February is Youth Month.  Many activities have been planned throughout Cameroon during this month.  In most towns, there were parades and celebrations on Feb. 11.  Feb. 17 was Youth Sunday at the Lutheran church where I have been attending.  Add to that lots of missionary visitors and colleagues from Baboua coming to Garoua Boulai and it ended up a busy week for me.
I went to the parade Monday with a Cameroonian friend.  I had been told it started at 8:30 a.m., but we got there about 10 a.m. and still had to wait for about an hour.  That gave me time to crowd watch and take some pictures.  There was a reviewing stand where important local people sat. (See picture.)  This included the sous-prefet and mayor, the latter is the woman in the center.  There were lots of students wearing uniforms.  The material used to make them seems lightweight so they look more like pajamas than school clothes to me.  Still, lighter fabric makes them less expensive and more affordable to all students.   

As the students lined up by school and by class (girls generally first and then boys), many people set up to sell food and drinks – sounds like a parade in the US, right??  Yes, but the foods they sell are different. Here are some pictures of some of the things that were sold:
Hard-boiled eggs with hot sauce, as a powder (carried on the head on the way to a spot where the stool can be lowered and the boy sit to sell them)

Drinks – put into plastic bags and carried on the head until a buyer comes by

Frozen popsicles and cold drinks (also in small plastic bags) kept in a cooler

Some kind of snack made from beans and other things (also bought in small plastic bags)

Sandwiches that seemed to be spaghetti with a little sauce on a baguette-type piece of bread.


 Just before the parade started, a speech by Cameroonian President Paul Biya was broadcast through large speakers.  Then, about four groups marched or danced to the front of the reviewing stand and danced for those in the stands.  To show their appreciation, people went to the group and put a coin or small bill on the forehead of a dancer or put it on the ground in front of them.  A teacher (or other responsible adult) collected the money after the song ended.  Here are pictures of what my friend called majorettes (although they had no batons) and then traditional dancers.  Then next picture shows some students marching.  They put out their hands as they passed the reviewing stand as a kind of greeting. 

Tuesday, Anne Langdji, ELCA Regional Representative, and Rev. Dr. Andrea Walker, new ELCA Director for West and Central Africa, came to town.  Since Wednesday, February 13 was Ash Wednesday, we went to a liturgy with imposition of ashes at the Bible School (that trains 20 catechists for two years).  After Anne and Pr. Andrea talked with the director, we were invited to a breakfast prepared by the wives of the director and another professor.  We ate about 11 a.m.; it was really a complete meal:  bread, coffee (foods I would expect at breakfast), but also, rice, macaroni, and chicken in vegetable sauce.  We ate very well!   After a brief visit to the Lutheran hospital, Anne and Pr. Andrea left for Yaoundé.

Wednesday through Sunday, four people came to visit from N’gaoundéré: the assistant to the national bishop who works with evangelism, Jack and Valerie Fredrick (a retired pastor and his wife who come for 4-5 months most years – he was the pastor at an English-speaking church in N’gaoundéré for four years some years ago), and Gashu (an Ethiopian who studied French with his wife in N’gaoundéré for a year in preparation for work in Mali.  Because of the fighting there, they are working for the Cameroonian church for several months hoping that peace will return in Mali.  These guests and the Director of the Bible School visited the area and spoke to the Bible School students.  Sunday I went to church with them – Youth Sunday.  The youth choir sang numerous songs.  As at the parade, congregants put coins or small bills on the foreheads (or in a basket before the choir) to show their appreciation.  This picture is a little blurry, but you can see one singer with a 500 cfa (about $1) note on her forehead.  I am including another blurry picture of myself in a new dress I had made.  
Assistant to the Nat'l Bishop

Director of the Bible School

Youth Choir
Valerie and Jack Fredrick

Also this week, the Chargé de Pédagogie (Curriculum Coach) from the Village School Program came to meet with me Friday and the Director of Christian Education came for a meeting on Saturday.  Also Saturday, we met with the national president of the EEL-RCA (who had come to Garoua Boulai for a meeting with Gashu). 

I certainly enjoyed all the visits and special activities but after all those visits (and continuing Sango and Gbaya classes), I took a break Sunday afternoon! 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Waterfall - Chute de Tambodono

Another waterfall! It seems that when I ask people what I should visit in their area, they first think of waterfalls.  So, today, Alain (a Cameroonian who has been showing me some of Garoua Boulai), his brother Gida, a cousin Theodor, and a friend Benjamin went with me to a waterfall about 10 km. from town. 

As is also usual: the first part of the road was good (in this case, paved or being paved –so level and even).  Then we took a dirt road that got progressively rougher until it became a track (used by people and an occasional motorcycle).  We, of course, went in the truck, so it was a challenge.  The dirt part of the road was only 3 km, but it took longer than the other 7 km. 

This was not a big fall, maybe more rapids.  We walked around the area and then had a picnic lunch – but not a typical US picnic, though.  We (well, really, they) cooked meat in a sauce and made manioc (cassava) over a fire.  They do it all the time at home, so why not on a picnic, too?  I also learned more about cleaning manioc and searching for gold.  Here are some pictures.

clothes drying in sun after wash in river

locally made bridge
small butterfly on a fallen leaf

pool dug while looking for gold

sand dug out of looking-for-gold pool- for building construction

emptying pool to look for gold

manioc (cassava) root being harvested

cleaned manioc roots

cleaning manioc roots

cutting manioc to t
preparing manioc to eat

lighting the fire to cook lunch
fire lit

preparing the picnic

food ready to eat!
Descending to picnic rock - I wouldn't go this way!

bathing and swimming after lunch

This month all of Cameroon is celebrating Youth Month.  In particular, Monday, February 11 is Youth Day.  There will be parades of school students and others.  I plan to go to the one here in Garaou Boulai, so I can write about that another time.

Work Update
My primary work at the moment is continuing with language studies – Sango (extending my knowledge through conversation and reading the Bible) and Gbaya (still at a much more basic level, but I can say some sentences and read/write more.  I have decided to go to the Gbaya church service tomorrow.  While my teacher and I have been studying the liturgy in Gbaya, I still expect to be lost for much of the time.  Then, he reminded me that I will have to introduce myself to the congregation!  I have written a few sentences (in Gbaya) that he has helped me perfect and practice.  Now, will I be able to tell when it is time to stand up and use them??? 

Pastor Andrea Walker, the new ELCA West Africa Director, and Anne Langdji, one of the Area Representatives, are coming to Garaou Boulai Tuesday.  We will have some time to meet and they will visit the hospital and Bible School that are here.  I am looking forward to it.

I also hope to soon have meetings with the leadership teams of the Village School Program and Christian Education.  We are still working on when.