16 February 2010

Lost in Translation

I am often reminded of the cultural differences, which may seem obvious to everyone in the United States. But honestly Cameroon is starting to feel like home which allows me to feel comfortable. Recently, though I have had a few cases where I am reminded that I am in another country.

For Valentine’s Day I was constantly reminding Alain (Rose-my counterpart-‘s husband) that this is the day where he should do nice things for her. For example he could cook, give her flowers or chocolates, etc. So then on V-day he told me that this fete lasts for a few days so he would not be doing anything on Sunday, but the next day instead. So then last night he decided that he was going to cook dinner – for her, I thought. Then night time comes and I get an invitation to their house. When I get there Alain is almost finished cooking and Rose, as it turns out, is working at the center after hours because someone was giving birth. He got the memo about making dinner, but I guess I did not emphasize the fact that it was for his wife enough. On va faire comment?

But he was so happy with himself for cooking (husbands here do not prepare food generally), so I guess it was a good experience. And the food was good too: spaghetti with tomato sauce and french fries!

I was visiting my friends the Bororos up in the mountains the other day, they are the muslim herder tribe. The one women, Djanabo, told me that should would gladly braid my hair. So of course I accepted and let her braid my hair. But then when she was about half way through I realized that she was randomly cutting ends off of some of the braids. I am non-confrontational so I did not even say that I knew she was doing it. I have gone through a few emotions from this experience. At first it was sadness, why was she deceiving me? I think I even hit on a little bit of anger after that: what right did she have to cut my hair without asking me? But now I am simply at curiousity: what would bring her to do something like that? All in all I think it is a cultural difference, in the states people do not cut others hair unless they are specifically asked to do so ( or maybe they are a devious little child who thinks it would be fun). My counterpart is asking around to try and figure out why they would do that. I know that they are intrigued by my hair because they often touch it and comment on it. Maybe they are just interested.

The last little story I have is about making a cake. So apparently here there is a belief that when a woman is menstruating she should not prepare things that you have to mix: cake, koki, soap. The other day we made two cakes the women’s group in BambouĂ©. The first cake we made was a carrot cake. Rose mixed that one up, but left shortly after because I think she remember that she had her period. Next we made banana bread. Another women mixed that up and we put them in the marmite oven together. What would you know, the carrot cake did not turn out, but the banana bread was excellent! I have not been able to understand why this phenomenon happens, but who understands everything they believe?

05 February 2010

Figuring Things Out

I think that maybe finally I am beginning to find my place here in
Bamboué (actually now technically since I have moved across the street
I live in Bassessa). Everyday I seem to have too many things to do

I have been doing house visits with two of the health delegates to see
pregnant women. The purpose of these visits is technically to prevent
the transmission of HIV/AIDS from mother to child, but none of these
women have HIV. Thus we end up giving them information on AIDS and
they get a chance to have their questions answered. After that we
spend the majority of the visit letting them ask questions about their
pregnancy or health in general. I think that they really appreciate
being able to ask questions and get answers. While the health center
has really good customer service (especially comparatively from what I
have heard), many times the women do not want to go and pay for a
consultation just to ask a question. This is a great opportunity for
the women to understand a little bit more about what is happening in
their body and that a lot of their discomfort should be expected
during pregnancy.

A side not on one of the visits – One of the ladies that we stopped by
was talking about how she did not want to eat a lot and did not want
to continue gaining weight. I was only hearing this second hand
because she was speaking in the local language-ngeimboon
(unfortunately I can not spell it correctly here just pretend that the
‘o’s are backwards c’s that make a sound like an o). But from the
translation I got it sounded like she was having a body image issue.
I was really surprised by this because the culture here does not
generally promote a thin ideal body. I could totally be
misinterpreting the situation, but that is what I took from the

I have also been helping out with the monthly vaccination days that
take place at the health center and also out in the community. I
think I am even getting a hang of how they fill out all of the
paperwork for the things, thus I can be of use. People keep asking me
if I want to give the injections, I am not at that point yet, but who
knows maybe I will learn. Two out of the five nurses at the hospital
are village nurses; which means that they never went to school or got
a degree to be a nurse, they have only picked up the knowledge from
hands on experience here at the center.

There are two local women’s groups meetings which I have been
attending as well. I am not sure if I am contributing too much yet,
but now I have started giving small formations about certain health
topics. I am also helping the two groups go through the legalization
process. March 8th is International Women’s Day so I think the women
want to plan a fete for that.

Another group that I am participating in is the local high school
Kung-fu group. Did you know that they did Kung-fu in Africa? I guess
they generally don’t, but David had brought this book about Kung-fu
with pictures in it. It is written in English so they have translated
parts of it and I will help to translate more. Basically, though,
they have come up with their own version from what they understand.
One of the boys, my neighbour Paulin, acts as the instructor and leads
the practices. They meet Sunday mornings really early and Wednesdays
after school (since school gets out early that day). I am slowly
learning a little bit of Kung-fu Cameroonian style and it is actually
a lot of fun. Soon all of the students want to get Kung-fu uniforms
made and organize a trip to the pool in Dschang. I am sure that I
will help in little ways, but this club is more simply for my
amusement. I fit right in with the high school students due to my

*Paulin actually helps out quite a lot at my house, he is really
friendly. I have recently ‘hired’ him as my house boy to clean the
floors and wash my clothes once a week. I struggled with the morality
of this for a while. It is not that I can not do these things myself,
because I am certainly capable, but I end up taking a whole day to do
what he can do in an hour or two. Also I decided that maybe in
someway I am helping the local economy by spreading some money around.
Many times people just ask me for money; I have decided that if they
can do something to help me then I can justify paying them or giving
them something, but I have trouble just giving money. Because then
people will expect that I continue to do that in the future and I do
not want to set that kind of unsustainable example.

I have recently acquired a blackboard for my house. Now I finally
have something for the kids to do when they come over. And now if
they ask me for something, I get to ask them to do a math problem
first to earn what they ask for! I actually really like the
blackboard too because I can doodle on it.

Currently I am in the process of visiting three of the local primary
schools to get permission to work with the kids once or twice a month.
I just received my letter of approval from the arrondissement
inspector in Batcham. Now all I need is permission from the school
directors. There are always a lot of hoops to jump through in order
to get things official, but this has not been too hard. I am really
looking forward to doing activities with the kids.

So that is what has been going on with me, now I just have a few observations:

Here kids have a fair amount of responsibility. Around the age of 4
they are entrusted to care for infants. They need to work on the
farms from a young age, get water for themselves (which is a task
here), help prepare food, and do the housework. In many senses they
have to grow up a lot faster than I was allowed to grow up. But in
case you were wondering, the children here still do have temper
tantrums and things like that; the responsibility has not completely
shielded them from childhood. And also hitting kids is totally
allowed here and not looked down upon in anyway. It is hard for me to
accept that. It is actually common in schools for the teachers to
punish the children this way, although recently there has been a
campaign to stop this behaviour in schools at least.

So on the one hand children are forced to take on responsibility at a
young age. Yet at the same time until ‘children’ have children of
their own and/or get married they are still considered children. This
means that they really can not get a job and have no way of making
money. While they are in high school for example, they go to school
and help out at the family farm and this is all that time allows for.
And from what I can tell if they have a child then they are adults and
stop going to school.

I still have not figured out what to do with my trash. My neighbors
burn it, but I have not yet decided how to go about doing that.
Burning plastic is certainly not the best thing for the environment,
and that is the majority of my trash. On top of that I hate the smell
and do not want to contribute to that. With my food scraps I tried to
start a compost, but there is a health delegate who works at the
center that wanted my scraps. So now I just give them all to him.
Paper scraps I keep or shopkeepers take to hand out bread. Then there
are jars and /or containers which I keep or the children use to make
toys. Thus the vast majority of my trash ends up being plastic
packaging. I keep the plastic bags that someone gives you anytime you
buy anything in a collection for some hopeful future purpose. I am
sure that sometime soon I will break down and give my trash to my
neighbour so that it can be burned together, but my trash pile builds
up surprisingly slow.

Cameroonian Companies
There are a lot of Cameroonian companies. Most of the aid money that
Cameroon used to receive went to the government. So in many ways it
is good to know that the money went, I assume, to the creation of
these companies. You can get chocolate made by ChocoCam; tea made by
CTE (Cameroon Tea Enterprise); telephones made by CamTel; maps or
boats made by CamShip; milk, yogurt, or soy products made by CamLait;
ciment made by CimenCam; and BelgoCam raises chickens; and I know
there are many others but right now the names are escaping me. I have
been living in village for a bit now and do not see many of these
products, but almost anything you can get made by a Cameroonian
company. Think about it like this, when you go into a grocery store
and they have the Wegmans brand or something, here it’s the
Cameroonian brand.