Monday, July 20, 2015

Adventures In Local Foods

I recently learned how to make a local corn porridge they eat here called “pap.” I had heard about it and had resisted trying it because it sounded nasty to me (just the name—pap—yuck), but since it is the main thing they feed to babies here as a first food I figured we'd give it a go in the Horne household, if only for Gabriel. Well, as it turns out we all LOVE it. Ok, Helena says she doesn't like it still. And Eric, well, he eats it out of politeness. But for us that's definitely a go ahead—75% positive rating!

Here are some Henny Penny-like instructions for making pap:

Ma Marcel, our housekeeper, showed me how to make it. First we had to get some corn. We took the last of last year's harvest, and shucked it and then scraped the dried kernels off. Then we took this whole corn and walked a mile to the grinding mill and had the man there crack the corn for us and then we brought it home again and put it all in a bucket of water. Some of the hulls, and a lot of debris, rose to the top and we skimmed all this off and threw it to the chickens, who clucked appreciatively. What remained soaked in the water all night, while in the meantime we made corn husk dolls out of the peels.

The next day we poured off the water and took the soaked corn back again to the mill. The man ground this wet corn very fine and then we walked back to the house and put the ground corn back into the bucket and added some water and stirred it up. We took our fine mesh sieve and slowly poured scoops of this watery corn meal through the sieve until we had sieved all the meal. Everything that passed through was very fine and clouding the water and we threw away all the bran that was too big to pass through the mesh. After that, we let the meal settle to the bottom overnight and the next morning we made the pap.

In the morning the corn was really starting to ferment and I found it fascinating that it doesn't smell sour like sourdough, but rather almost like yogurt. We made a huge bucket-full, because with something so labor intensive you don't want to make it often. Every day you just change the water that rises to the top to keep it from getting too funky. The pap does become progressively more sour; however, on the first day it is very mild.

The best part is after all of the preparations above (including four miles of walking!), the cooking is very fast! You just boil water and add a scoop of pap blended with an equal amount of water and then stir it into the boiling pot. It almost instantly thickens up into a very smooth, almost pudding-like porridge. We eat it with standard oatmeal toppings. I've made it for myself with milk instead of water (the kids don't eat milk) and it really is delicious that way.

I pretty much love the simplicity of life here and the way in which tasks like these occupy so much of our time. I love learning the routines of people's lives in Cameroon; I think it is so important for missionaries to try to understand the work involved in the lives of the poor. Not just for “an experience” to serve themselves, but to truly embrace the work and the struggle of daily life. I think that when you do embrace the struggle you come to love it and respect it too. There is so much dignity in these lives that we think are so poor—I see it in the careful way they work to provide for themselves and their families.  


Friday, June 12, 2015

All Nations

In Kumbo, we literally live in the middle of nowhere. We are a second rate city in an ignored region of a forgotten country in the middle of a neglected and abused continent. If you look at a map of Cameroon, the “good roads” end before you reach Kumbo. If you look at a map of the major shipping lanes of the world, you'll noticed that most of them are trying to go AROUND Africa, to link up Asia with the West. We're nobody, we're nothing, we're just trying to scratch out a living from the earth. We're just living life, one day at a time, trying to live long enough to praise the Lord and maybe be remembered by our children's children. Lamnso' is a living but threatened language. There may be problems with our country, as there are problems with all countries, but at least we have peace.

Look around you. In America, there are many Cameroonians. They diagnose your ailments and administer your IV's. They make plays in the NFL. They give homilies and hear confessions. They pray for you while on retreat. They sell you houses and bag your groceries and rent your meeting spaces. They listen to your lectures. They deliver your babies.

We have discovered there is a large population of Cameroonians abroad, and even a large population of diaspora Nso'. They say that in Cameroon there is an Nso' man in every town and city. I wouldn't doubt that is true about every major city in America.

So what's the deal? Why are we living here, in their place? Why are they living there, in our place? What are we doing?

I think there is a value in the global exchange of people, ideas, and culture. There is a beauty to recognizing the universal human experience. But there's an even higher and more important reason. Christ commanded us to preach the good news to all Nations, and so here we are. Living and working and watching and being watched. But Christians here have the same command, so they go out, if they can, and live their lives in other nations. Maybe we can watch and learn from them and other immigrants as they bear witness to Christ and preach the Gospel to us.

God knows we need some Good News.


Monday, June 1, 2015

The Last Day of School

The last day of the term is always crazy, and the last day of school even more so. This year, things went relatively smoothly, all things considered. The administrative staff worked very hard in the previous 48 hours. While things were done at the last minute, they got done.
Exams: the quietest the students ever get
This is the first year that Saint Augustine College has used a computer to record and track students' marks. The software we use is a school management program written by a Cameroonian. It is interesting because it is tailor made for the Cameroonian school system, but it is also very clunky, kludge-y, and not user friendly. It is lacking a surprising number of useful features. But it works, if barely, so we use it. It sure beats entering all the marks by hand on giant spreadsheets, and calculating each student's average by hand, and writing report cards by hand. (I'm not sure if it beats a simple spreadsheet program like Excel.)

I am half-trained on the school management software, so this term it fell to me to enter most of the marks while the computer teacher, Mr. Fred, who usually enters the marks, was away preparing and administering the practical portion of the GCE Computer exam. Being where we are (i.e. Cameroon) I didn't know I was going to have this duty until I myself went up to turn in my marks on Tuesday. After I was through entering, Mr. Fred said, “OK, I need to go to town to inspect an examination site. You can stay here and enter marks, I will be back in two hours.” That was the last I saw him for several days. The data entry isn't too difficult, and I hope that other teachers will be trained to do it, to lessen the burden on any one individual. Over two days, I spent 8 or 9 hours in the staff room, entering marks. I think the computer teacher was pleased to return and find almost all of his work finished.
Teachers working fast and furious to get it done.
 The class council the next day started at “9 AM,” which really turned out to be 11. By now, we know how to deal with the boring and pointless tedium, so it was OK. Our kids at home enjoyed watching an endless stream of movies. After the class council, the report cards were taken into town to be printed, and then the principal and some others spent forever signing and stamping them. Then, in the morning the students are all packed up and the teachers put packets together with the book list for next year and a letter home and the report cards, everything is distributed, and everyone goes home.
"Please, for our report cards, sir!"
 One fun thing to note was the camaraderie and support between the students when the report cards were distributed. One of the Form I students went to primary school in the village and so came to secondary school with no English skills whatsoever. He is always near the bottom of the class, but the other students rejoiced when they saw that he had been “promoted on trial.” He didn't pass, but he didn't TOTALLY fail, so congratulations were in order.

We also took this as an opportunity to pass out holy cards and say good-bye to the students. We saw a new treat being sold that we had never seen before, something similar to peanut brittle. I asked what it was called, and there was some “who's on first” humor as the vendor told me the name: it is not sweet. I know it's not sweet, but what is the name? It is not sweet. Oh, the name of the treat is, “It is not sweet.” Yes.

In fact, it is sweet. What else is sweet? Having another year under our belt.