Friday, August 30, 2013

More Rolls Please

Baking is possible here, and baking with whole wheat is possible if you can find the whole wheat yourself, and then get it ground into flour at one of the many mills. Quick breads are easy, though leavening is expensive. We have been using many recipes from two of our favorite bread books: the Tassajara bread book, and Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day. One thing truly amazes me: I can make English muffins! I guess I always thought they just came out of a bag. English Muffins are actually great to make because you can make them stovetop, and not have to use the oven, which uses up cooking gas at a faster rate.

There is something comforting and wonderful and magical about baking: mixing the dough, kneading the dough, sneaking some dough, letting it rise... It's also a universal crowd pleaser. While our "viyikir ve vimbang" (white-man food) is hit or miss with the local crowd, everybody always asks for more rolls.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I think about Jesus' parables and all the agricultural images in Scripture, and how they must ring very deep and true for the people of Kumbo. With the light of tradition as a guide, and with necessity pushing and pulling them forward, the people here wring out a living from the earth. For me, the images of sowing and reaping and storing grain have always been metaphorical, relating to my life only by analogy. How much more can one understand the words of Christ who actually puts his hand to the plow, who sows, who reaps, who stores her grain!

The image of the fiddler on the roof is an apt one to describe life in Kumbo: people trying to scratch out a simple and pleasing melody, without breaking their necks. From our conversations and observations we know that tradition is very important in many aspects of life here.  In many ways, tradition helps people to understand who they are and what they are about. For instance, we are told that to be married in the Catholic Church, one must first be married according to tradition as well as according to the law, because like it or not, the weight of the traditional ceremonies holds marriages together more firmly than just the vows made in Church.

Then, against the backdrop of tradition, there is progress. Fufu jama jama is consumed with Coca Cola. The farmer breaks from hoeing the ground to answer a cell phone. The Fon, the traditional king, comes out of his palace to watch the Americans set off fireworks for the Fourth of July.

Yesterday, I was walking down the road to Squares, and in short succession I was passed by tradition and progress. There was a procession of men in traditional garb, shouting and chanting and leading along a man dressed in a costume replete with a grotesque wooden mask. They were going up, and I had to step to the edge of the road. There is little shoulder to speak of on that stretch of road, the drop off is steep, and guard rails are practically unheard of here. Then, from out of the constant swarm of achabas buzzing uphill loudly or zooming down almost silently (as gravity uses up no gas) a huge truck loaded with goods came barreling down, honking and belching smoke in the air. I had to stand firm on my little edge of road above the drop-off and trust that neither the truck nor an achaba would force me off.

Tradition steadily climbs up, not merely preserving the past for the past's sake, but rather capturing and claiming for the present and future all that is good and true that has come from the past, leaving the bad. Tradition need not be set against progress, for both are needed: so long as we preserve only the good and that in all our progressing we don't progress straight off a cliff.

The dance and interplay between tradition and progress is all a distant worry when your most immediate need is to try not to get hit by a truck.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Food 3

A few people have asked about what we are eating here in Cameroon. I was curious how we would fare gastronomically as well since eating is a big hobby of mine, I do it minimally three times a day. Yuk, yuk, yuk. Though beyond that, these last six years,  I have been teaching myself to become a better cook and have become something that those in Los Alamos are accustomed to calling a "food nerd." That is, a person who spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about, talking about, reading about, preparing and

I came with the goal in mind that instead of adapting to eating here by relying on expensive imported goods I wanted to rise to the challenge of primarily using local foods, though not confining myself to preparing them in the local style. This having no idea what I would find here! I was delighted though the first time I explored the market to find all sorts of treasures and even some comfort foods from home!

Here is a list of some standard pantry staples:  Cassava, cocoyams, sweet potatoes, "irish" potatoes, corn, rice, pasta.

Beans: back, red, soy, black eyed peas, and something that looks like a garbanzo bean but is more translucent-- the call it nganser if someone wants to Google that for me and leave it in the comments!

Eggs, beef, pork, poultry, goat, and mutton are to be had but are expensive. Actually, beans are even pretty expensive when compared to starches. Fish, dried and fresh, are abundant.

The primary oils are ground nut and red palm. The latter I believe is an excellent source of fat-soluble nutrients and is used liberally here.

Other interesting items include: ground nuts (in abundance and usually consumed boiled rather than roasted), kola nuts, pumpkin seeds, salt and pepper and Jamaica hibiscus blossoms! I was so happy to find this and that a friend had given me a heads up to look for it.

Produce and fruit is abundant, though interestingly Cameroonians only use very small amounts of vegetables in their cooking-- I think as a matter of frugality. This is with the exception of greens-based dishes which are all veg (and oil).  Curiously, there is no Lamnso' word or concept equivalent to "vegetable."

They also have their own variation of mirepoix which they call "green spice." it is: green onion, celery, curly parsley, and basil. This is the main form of seasoning.

I have not been disappointed in material as you can see! We have been eating very well and have been learning to like a few Cameroonian preparations too. I do find that Cameroon food can be a little flat, or monotone, but some of it is enjoyable as a sort of comfort food.  One brilliant insight has been to add minced ginger to my beans! I mean seriously, why have I never thought of that?! I also didn't bring many cookbooks with me, which has challenged me to rely more on my own instinct and knowledge than I usually do (I have a terrible memory and am very recipe dependent).

So far it's been great and I've enjoyed being more creative with the options I have before me! For example, I was able to buy a pound of basil (which would have cost 8 to 15 dollars in the states, here cost 1 dollar!) and make pesto. Of course subbing toasted pumpkin seeds for pine nuts and lemon juice for parmesan. It was delightful! Though the woman selling me was confused why I would ever want so much basil without the rest of the green spices!

I've also rediscovered some recipes from home that are particularly well suited to here. Here is one you can try if you want to have a taste of our life here:

Lemon and Peanut Coated Green Beans

2 tbsp peanut oil
2 tbsp minced ginger
zest from one lemon
1 tbsp minced garlic
1-1.5 cups coarsely ground peanuts
1/4 tsp salt
1 lb green beans
juice from lemon

Heat 1 tbsp oil in large skillet over med heat, add ginger and saute for a few minutes until aromatic; add peanuts, garlic, zest and lower heat to med low. Cook peanut mixture, stirring frequently for 10 minutes until peanuts are lightly toasted. Add salt if peanuts are not salted. Remove mixture to plate and wipe skillet. Add remaining oil and turn heat up to med high, add green beans and sauté until crisp-tender. Add peanut mixture back in with the lemon juice and toss to coat the green beans. Serve immediately.

The confession:  Believe me though, there are things I miss: dairy! bacon! cinnamon!

I caved and bought an expensive jar of cinnamon, because, well, just because! Eric and I, when giving way to cravings, have twice made ourselves chocolate pudding cake (an excellent, easy, frugal way to get a chocolate hit). And once snicker doodles which our neighbors were happy to benefit from.


Monday, August 12, 2013

How We Got Pork

We asked around until someone showed us a man at Squares who sells pork meat, but he sells it cooked. He said to come in the morning when he kills it to get uncooked meat. The next day we showed up, and he called an achaba (motorcycle taxi) who took us to a neighborhood a kilometer away, where we greeted a grandmother and grandchildren, then were led around various houses and cook sheds into a relatively nice home, with a nice sitting room with a television and motorcycle inside. Then, we sat for three minutes, until a man came and negotiated a price with us, and we zig-zagged back through the compound to the street, and walked to his store where he has a fridge full of dead pig parts. He kills one hog every morning. We bought 2.5 kilograms of pork meat, asked him if he would provide fat for us (to render into lard) and after exchanging numbers, we got back on the achaba to take us back to Squares, and he charged us too much because we didn't agree to a price before we left (notes for next time: don't do that).

So, it's a little more difficult than just picking up a tenderloin in the fridge section of the supermarket, but it's pretty much as local as one can get!

Now, to make some barbecue sauce...


Friday, August 9, 2013

Reflection: Jinyuy

We called our friends Ryan and Maura Martin after we arrived in Cameroon, but before they did. Our families went through Lay Mission-Helper training together in LA in the Spring, and we wanted to share our experiences so far. We hadn't seen them since our Commissioning at the end of May. One of the first things Ryan said to me was, "It's good to hear your voice." I didn't think much of that expression in the moment, but have been thinking about this more.

Last night I re-discovered some music we had brought with us, some songs written and recorded by my younger brother, Matthew. Halfway through the first track, I was surprised when my deceased brother Ben's voice came through the speakers, as well. I was not expecting to hear Ben at all. It was good to hear his voice, it was as if he was made present to us again.

"Jinyuy" is Lamnso' for the Word of God, from Ji meaning word or voice, and Nyuy meaning God. (As a side note, nyuy pronounced ever-so-slightly different means "cutlass," the machete-like tool used to cut grass and brush.)  I think that it is beautiful that the Word of God, in Lamnso', is not just the word, but the spoken word. The Greek "Logos," which is what John uses in his Gospel, also has a meaning that encompasses more than just "word," meaning complete thought, logic, etc. But in Lamnso', without any loss of the logic, the word is spoken, not just spoken but spoken to you. Our God is a personal God, one who speaks to us. We not only have God's word, but also God's voice. God spoke and created the cosmos. The Lord spoke to Moses from the bush that burned but was not consumed. The Lord speaks to Job, the voice from the storm. The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.

As I've noted before, there are so many languages all around us. Today is Kaavi, market day, and I managed to use some of my fledgling Lamnso' and Pidgin skills to help me communicate. There were also languages I heard that I did not understand, and was left just smiling and nodding. But at Mass, there was but one Word that we received, one Word spoken by God, one Logic made flesh, one Voice, one Jinyuy:  Jesus.

It is good to hear his voice.