Thursday, February 20, 2014

Miracles and Mysteries on the Road to St. Mary's

Last Saturday the Staff at SAC paid a visit to St. Mary's College in Ndop.  Ndop is a town about midway between Kumbo and Bamenda and is famous for its rice fields. The programme as published going into the weekend included introductions, songs by the St. Mary's students, a tour of the UNVDA rice factory, and a football match pitting the two faculties against each other. 

Well, we did those things, and more... unfortunately, one of the additional unprogrammed events was a vehicle bearing SAC teachers spinning out and flipping over, not more than 4 minutes from the destination. There must have been about 13 million guardian angels helping, because the five teachers inside the care were unhurt! A second car, unrelated to our trip, crashed in the same spot for the same reason during the rescue effort of "our" car. There was a tricky-to-navigate part of the road, and drivers unused to the highway paid the price for their lack of practice. The second car that crashed had three passengers rushed to the hospital. We were very thankful to have our teachers safe and sound. Many SAC teachers attributed the lack of injuries to the fact that we prayed before we set out.

After everyone gathered safely, the staff of St. Mary's led us onto campus in a triumphant procession. It looked pretty smart, with the St. Mary's teachers in their matching track suits riding two or three to a motorcycle, and the SAC cars following behind. We were welcomed by the students, and there was singing as promised, and "self-introduction." The teachers from St. Mary's tended to be younger, while our own teaches tend to be older... There was some joking about the trip, because St. Mary's had visited SAC 7 years ago, and this was a "payback" invitation to visit them in return. The reason they waited so long was so that they could have children and those children could defeat us in football.

Breakfast (at 10 AM) was delicious, rice with sardine sandwiches and your choice of soda. We have noticed that the food options here, especially at big events, aren't varied. People are just happy to have a filling meal.

There were speeches, of course. There are always speeches. The entire visit was also punctuated by the hilarious comedic addresses of one of the teachers from SAC, who imitated a Nigerian televangelist. It was apparently hilarious... I have never seen the televangelist, but everyone else seemed to be at least familiar with his "prophecies" and such things.

The visit to the UNVDA Rice facility was interesting, and merits its own post, as does the football match. About the rice tour, I will say that a mystery was revealed to me during the tour. On the buses between Bamenda and Douala, there are salesmen who get on and sell "magic powder" to the passengers. The magic powder has about 25 different uses, and will do everything from ease your aching teeth to help your irregular menstrual flow. It's a sham, and I've always wondered just what exactly was in the powder. Well, on the tour, I discovered that entrepreneurial locals take the hulls of the rice, bleach them in the sun, and then grind it up and sell it as magic powder. Mystery solved!

As for the football, we won, 2-1, but our ladies lost the handball match by forfeit, as we only had three teachers willing to play. More on that later, especially more pictures.

After washing the sweat and dirt off and dressing up a little bit, we went to a bar/hotel in Ndop for dinner and drinks and socializing. The sign for the bar was one of the more interesting I've seen here:

I had a nice time talking with some of the St. Mary's teachers, and getting to know some of the SAC teachers better. There were more speeches, and gifts given, and food. There was some unexpected entertainment, as a local palm wine tapper was busy up in the trees next door. In Ndop, they tap at the top of the palm to get the palm wine, in Kumbo there is a different method and a different plant. In Kumbo, they tap the raffia palm bush, getting at it underground. 

Before it was dark, we got back in the cars and headed home. It was an uneventful return trip, thankfully. I was tired and exhausted from being up and out all day, from playing football, from socializing, but I am glad I went. It was nice to come home and see my family. Most of the kids were still awake but going to bed, a process which I interrupted, but it is always nice to hug your babies.

As Logan  stayed home with the kids, and the other expat SAC teachers have returned to America, I was the only American around. I am becoming more aware of the various groups of Cameroonians, and notice how certain teachers from the same tribe tend to talk to each other more and stick together. Tribalism is embedded deep in our psyche, no more here than in the States.

It was a good experience, and hopefully we'll host St. Mary's here next year, or another school. In the meantime, I'll practice my football skills for the rematch.


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