Monday, April 12, 2010

An entry from our guest blogger, Mom!

The deepest impression I have of Cameroon is of overwhelming hospitality. Everyone everywhere greeted us with big smiles and gracious words. Carol and Allen’s friends took us into their homes and extended welcome with heavily sweetened tea, cookies and soft drinks, or hot ginger spiced soy milk, or even an elaborate Cameroonian dinner. We visited with various families but always seemed to be in the midst of a multi-generational family. The food was delicious. I wished I were fluent in French but as I am not, taxed Carol and Allen’s translating abilities. The warm regard and high esteem Carol and Allen enjoy as teachers with Peace Corps was extended to us. We had a unique opportunity to glimpse Cameroonian culture. We truly traveled on their coattails!

We landed without incident in Yaoundé. Yaoundé is lush and tropical. Many varieties of palm trees, exotic ginger plants and colorful lizards abound. It was hot and somewhat humid. We had a tropical shower or two. Jet lag slowed me down for 2-3 days. Allen’s aunt, Linda, was not as slowed as I was! Linda came from Ohio. I came from Washington. After waiting an extra day due to a derailment, we traveled to Ngaoundal via the night train. We had a sleeping compartment with 4 bunks. The train traveled all night and at each stop, people peddled fruit, honey, or “baton pistache” a ground peanut, dried fish, pistachio snack tied in leaves. Some of the vendors were young, school age children. We slept off and on through many stops. About 9 am we arrived in Ngaoundal. This was a short stop, so Allen quickly wrestled our multiple (I think at least 7!) bags off the train and we rappelled from the last step of the train to the bank. The next leg of our journey was by “Bush Taxi”, a 25 person bus that took us to Meiganga. The terrain changed from lush to a drier climate with red dirt like Georgia. Small mud brick and grass hut villages dotted the countryside. The land was sparsely forested. Termite mounds and ant hills were plentiful. The road was paved and we made good time.

Meiganga is the town where Allen teaches. Linda and I quickly learned to ride motos and motos took us and our multiple bags to Allen’s home. We met Buddy Repperton, Allen’s African dog. Buddy was very glad to see Allen and Carol and decided Linda and I were tolerable. Allen’s house is in the Muslim quarter and we heard the muezzin call the faithful to prayer. Five times a day the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer. Buddy occasionally lends his howl to the loudspeaker call to prayer! We met Allison and Claire, two PC volunteers also working in Meiganga. Claire is working with small business development and Allison is in health education. They extended their hospitality as well. It definitely is to a volunteer’s advantage to get along with the other volunteers in the area. It is quite apparent they form a “family” and share camaraderie unique to folks who both lean on and watch out for each other. Allen treated us to a tour of the lycee where he teaches English. He showed us the library, his additional project. The library is up and running but has not really caught on. Most Cameroonians do not read for recreation and the book selection is limited. The school was attractive but obviously in need of ceiling repair. Allen said he had about 70 students per class and I think at least 7 classes, so that is a mind boggling 490+ students! We attended Mass at a lovely Catholic parish, the Church of Christ the King. It was very African and very elegant. The carvings of Christ on the Cross with Mary and John at the foot were wonderful. The African Madonna and Christ child was beautiful. The music was memorable. The pastor is an exceptionally charismatic, welcoming man. He invited us to dinner and served 3 different Cameroonian dishes. We felt like VIPs!

Allison arranged for us to tour the health clinic. James is a nurse practioner and head of the clinic. Sephora, his wife, is the head nurse. James sees patients, performs some surgeries, e.g. appendectomy, Caesarean section, hernia repairs, etc. The anesthetics are limited, basically local and ketamine. They have around 12 deliveries per month. Sephora said that 80% of the women deliver their babies at home. Most women have only one prenatal visit and that is in the last trimester. About 60% do come back for immunizations. They routinely give tetanus, polio, diphtheria, typhoid and meningococcal vaccinations. Their waiting areas were all full. One small girl was very memorable. She seemed to be about 5 years old. She was beautiful but too thin, even for a child of slender frame. Her eyes were huge and she looked ill. Her father brought her for treatment, which is free for refugee women and children. Allison said she had malaria and a high fever.

We stayed in Meiganga for 5 days. At times it was hot enough Linda and I wished we were cooler, but it was not unbearable. Allen had electricity about half of the time. He cooked on a gas burner. Candles and flashlights helped us see by night, but basically we planned and did what had to be done in daylight. Allen’s house was without water the last 2 days of our stay. Again, preplanning was the key. Allen had a hunch the water might be stopped and filled large containers so we could cook, flush, and enjoy a “bucket bath”.

We hired a taxi to drive us to Ngaoundere. Carol traveled up front with the driver while Linda, Allen and I rode in the back. Buddy sat on Allen’s lap with his head out the window, occasionally retching (Buddy gets carsick!). It was a sight many Cameroonians found amazing: a dog, traveling by car, head hanging out the back window! A school, gathered around the flagpole for morning assembly, erupted in laughter. Most people who caught sight of Buddy turned around for a second, incredulous look. The road was unpaved, dusty, and deeply rutted. Passing a slow truck meant our driver, briefly, had zero visibility. We enjoyed a cool shower once we arrived at Carol’s house.

Ngaoundere is a pretty city with large mango trees. Honey is Carol’s African dog. She is dainty, sensitive and smart. Carol bought vegetables and after soaking in bleached water, made wonderful salads and vegetable couscous. Carol and Allen were our guides as to where to eat, how to travel, how to barter at the market, and myriad other fascinating vital little details of daily life. Every day we saw men, women and young children carrying platters of goods on their heads. Peanuts, bananas, mangos, avocados, carrots, even a traveling tea and Nescafe stand, all were arranged on some type of tray balanced on the head. Everyone seems to have a statuesque carriage that underscores their graceful poise. We visited the women’s center where Carol teaches. Jessie, a PC volunteer at the Norwegian hospital, showed us around the pediatric, maternity and surgery departments. It was fascinating! Carol’s friend, Assiatou, welcomed us into her home and showed us her school. We climbed Mt. Ngaoundere and enjoyed a spectacular view of the countryside. We went to English Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady. We observed the Muslim gathering for prayer at the Lamidat. We enjoyed scenic Lac Tison. We bought sandals and beautiful pagne cloth for souvenirs.

Time flew and our wonderful African Adventure sped by. We journeyed back to Yaoundé by train, giving ourselves extra time for delays. Carol and Allen had Peace Corps meetings to attend. We sandwiched in a visit to the zoo. There were too many memorable events to relate! The generous hospitality we met everywhere humbled me. I flew home with a warm sense of friendship for the people of Cameroon.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful recounting of your trip. Now I must see the photos! Mary