Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Unexpected Late Night Visitors

Today, I proctored an exam for  Form V, finished marking the completed Form I Maths exams, returned some library books, bought works from a local artist, had dinner and drinks with a friend in  our house, and after all that was said and done, met the Governor of the Northwest Region.

You know, just your average, everyday occurrence: the Governor (well, his lackey) knocks on your door after dark, your kids are in bed, and you can't find matching shoes to go out and talk with him, so you wear your wife's house shoes and shuffle over to a well dressed man you can't see in the dark, shake hands, determine he's nowhere near where he wants to be, you wait while he has a conversation over the phone in French with the Bishop, from whom he gets directions, then he drives off. I never even learned his name.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Crafts In Cameroon

In New Mexico, we loved to go to local craft fairs. The Indian Market and Spanish Market in Santa Fe were particularly wonderful. We loved to see and learn the local skills, sometimes passed down generation to generation. There is one family of weavers in Chimayo that has been weaving for seven or eight generations!  We knew there are traditional handicrafts in Africa, but didn't know what the scene would be like here in Kumbo.  There are Elephants in Africa, but not in Kumbo, you know? So is there art here?

YES! There is! Emphatically yes! We are slowly learning about the various traditional crafts, and I'm sure we will learn more. Today was a learn-more day, as we attended an arts and crafts competition. Regional craftsmen and craftswomen show off their work, try to sell a few pieces, and compete for judged prizes... CASH prizes. Generous cash prizes.

Logan and I only heard about the event the day before, from one of the participants. She makes jewelry at the Himalayan Institute, which is doing great things to train people in various useful trades. We took Isabelle and Max with us, and set off to find out just how artsy and craftsy Cameroon can be.

On the taxi ride to the fair, it started pouring rain. It is dry season, it's not supposed to rain. The taxi got to the roundabout in Squares, where the passengers all get out and switch taxis according to their destination, but nobody got out. And the rain kept coming. And coming. Finally, there was a break in the rain, and we rushed over to a taxi heading for Tobin, which dropped us off at the Library at the Himalayan Institute, where we waited out the rain. The rain! Why the rain? Who knows... I'm thankful because it reduces the dust from the road and it waters the trees and our garden. 

But the mud. Oh my, the mud. When we finally got to the craft fair, it was clear and sunny, and totally muddy. We squelched around looking at all the beautiful works. There were painters, weavers, carvers, embroiderers, even coffee roasters and soap makers.  We saw some absolutely gorgeous carved tables and chairs, and the wheels started turning... they weren't that bad a price, either!
We didn't buy anything big, but we did get the contact info for several of the artists. We were also pleased to discover that the local coffee makers, Bime (bee-may), has a nice blend.  They grow coffee here in Nso' and roast coffee here in Nso' and we buy the coffee and drink the coffee here in Nso', but it doesn't taste that good. Apparently, we've just been buying the wrong variety. Buy the red bag, not the brown and yellow bag, next time you are shopping for local Nso' coffee.

Any Cameroonian event is incomplete without speeches, and so we listened to those, and then continued to look at all the works while Samba groups played music to "animate," including a giant xylophone and a troupe of Jujus dancing. I wished I could buy from and support all the artists, but some things just aren't possible. We didn't hear the results from the judges, as the sky was threatening rain again(!) so we packed up and went to our favorite spaghetti omelet restaurant. You've never had a spaghetti omelet? They are a yummy, and most importantly, safe, food to order. Safe because they make them right then and there instead of hours or days before, and your risk of the food making you sick is low.

Now we are home, and are preparing to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas. See, we forgot to put our shoes out last night and St. Nicholas passed our house over, but I talked to him and if we leave our shoes out during dinner, we'll have a nice surprise when we finish.

Tomorrow we plan to head back to Tobin for the third time in three days. Thursday we went to the post office and the Himalayan Institute, Friday was the Library and the Craft fair, and Tomorrow will be the (other) Library and... The Annual Horse Race! We're excited to see the Mbororo people, who show up in droves, because they have horses. It's not looking anything like Christmas, but December in Cameroon is shaping up to be its own bunch of fun.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Picture Blog 2

On the Solemnity of Christ the King, at the end of Mass all the neighboring parishes process with the Blessed to the Cathedral for benediction. From high up you could see the various processions all converging together. From the road, you could hear the singing and the praying and feel the joy. The men holding the canopy are wearing a traditional pattern of cloth.
We have an Advent wreath, and light it every night at dinner. After dinner Logan sometimes reads to the children from a history book written to tell children history as a story. Here we are, reading by candlelight. Can you find Max in the picture?
Sally is thankful for a good meal shared with friends. We had a thanksgiving meal with other American expats here, including a turkey! it was flown in especially for the occasion. The only thing missing from the feast was the green bean casserole. We made our traditional ravioli (long story short, we hosted vegetarians for Thanksgiving several years in a row, including my brother Ben, and now we continue the tradition in his memory).

I now have my own radio show! I have been asked to host a weekly piece Sunday evenings entitled "What the Pope Says." I'll give you one guess as to the subject matter... The first week went well enough, though we have plans to improve. In the picture, the man in the studio is Chrisco, who mans all the dials and levels and thingees on the other side of the glass. After the broadcast he offered to share his snack... fried grasshoppers. yum! The crunchy ones are good, the squishy ones are a little gross. Tune in to Radio Evangelium Kumbo at 7:30 PM Cameroon time to hear about What the Pope says!


Monday, December 2, 2013

Mercy Watson

Sometimes, something happens that just brightens your day, no matter how dull or bright it already was. For us, this past week, it was a very generous care package from our dear friends in Los Alamos. Inside we found a letter, very nice yarn for knitting (we both knit), knitting patterns, and books for the children.

Not just any books, but Mercy Watson books. Mercy Watson is a pig who lives with Mr. Watson and Mrs. Watson at 54 Deckawoo Drive. Her favorite food is toast with a great deal of butter on it. In every book she manages to get into misadventures involving the neighbors, the police, the fire department, animal control, and of course, toast. More often than not, there is a chase. Mercy *loves* a chase!

And our children love Mercy! The same family that sent the package introduced us to Mercy through books on tape to take on cross-country drives. One listen, and we were hooked. The adults I mean. Mercy is great!
 Anyway, this is a mission blog, not a book review blog. Suffice it to say, everyone, including our house help, has been busy reading Mercy books, and Logan and I have been busy knitting, while Helena and James are learning to knit and crochet. 

On Saturday I cast on for a new project (what will eventually, hopefully, be a beautiful shawl) and knit a few rows, then glanced outside to see the fencing material we had recently purchased. We have a small garden, and the neighborhood has goats. The goats eat our plants, and we need to keep them out. Beyond the fencing material, I saw a goat in our garden snacking on our beans, and decided that the nice new yarn could wait, but the fence couldn't. 

I spent the better part of the day digging holes and putting in fence posts. The Sun was sinking in the West, I was tired and sweaty and very, very dirty. I only had a few more posts to sink into the ground, when I looked up and saw...

A pig! Now, it's not unusual to see loose goats, or chickens, and there was even a herd of cows that trotted by my classroom window once... but I had never seen a pig out of her pen before. Beyond the pig was a small army of young men trying to stalk and catch her. When they got too close, off she went!

It was a chase! Mercy *loved* a chase!

I joined in, and we chased the pig through the woods, crashing through the underbrush and fallen branches. Soon enough one of the young men got close and flopped right on top of her, pinning her to the ground. The pig's owner told me this was the 4th time this week the pig escaped!

After the retelling and explanation as to why I was covered in burrs when I was only building a fence in our front yard, Logan declared the appearance of Mercy Watson in our yard in Cameroon to be the highlight of her day. I'm not sure if the pig that wandered into our yard enjoyed hot toast with a great deal of butter on it, but she seems like a pig after Mercy's own heart. 
I wish I could say that after building the fence and chasing the pig we all went inside and Mrs. Watson served up piles upon piles of hot buttered toast, but reality turned out better. I watched my tan wash off in the shower, ate a delicious meal prepared by Mrs. Horne, and turned in early, dreaming of toast and butter and knitting. And Mercy.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Thorns & Roses

Thorns and roses is one of our family traditions. At the end of the day, or trip, or event, everyone gathers together and shares a thorn from the day, paired with a rose. A thorn is some bad part of the day, a low point. The rose is a bright part of your day, that made you smile and brought you joy. Sometimes we add rosebuds, something you are looking forward to tomorrow or in the near future. It is not a nightly ritual, but we do it often enough that the children enjoy it, and are even becoming better about sharing and being thoughtful.

The thing with Mission work is, sometimes it is difficult to notice the roses when your hand is gripped so tightly around the thorns. In a day full of uplifting experiences, it is often the frustrating class or the annoying or baffling interaction that I come home talking about. Sometimes I just want to vent, but that venting can become tunnel vision focused on the thorns.
Of course, this isn't true just for mission life, it is true for life in general. (Thought: for a Christian, can there be anything BUT mission life?).

So, it's good to recognize the frustrating thorns AND the beautiful roses, everyday.  So, here are a couple of my own "Thorns and Roses" from recent weeks, and a few rosebuds:


-Schedule disruptions that nobody else seems surprised or bothered by;
-"White man price," where vendors assume that just because I CAN pay a higher price, I will; 
-When the water goes out at the same time your whole family gets a nasty stomach bug;


-I am continually amazed at the beauty of Kumbo and the NW region;
-Shopping for fabric and having clothes tailor made is pretty fun;
-Getting to know the people here and building relationships with them, and catching a glimpse into their lives;
-Getting email, snail mail, and even the occasional package from friends and family back home. Thank you so much! We have written many response letters, please be patient with us and the mail!
-Spur-of-the moment Philly Cheese Steak parties, with last-minute dashing off to find ingredients, and replete with surprise guests who turn it into a birthday party. It was actually our second accidental birthday in a week. we seem to be adept at having people over, then having someone else show up whose birthday it is.
-Getting to know Falan, a friend of my deceased brother who was in Kumbo for a month at Shisong, through Dr. Ellen Dailor, who is here through Mission Doctors Association, which is the sister organization to Lay Mission Helpers. Got all that? It's not quite," My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night," but it is close;

-I recently obtained a Lamnso' primer, and it is very helpful in learning the language;
-Our friend Sara, from New Mexico, will be visiting over Christmas!