Thursday, April 23, 2015

Easter Egg Hunt

In Boy Scouts, I learned to always “Be Prepared.” It is a motto that has served me well in my life, and yet I am still learning how best to apply it, especially when generosity and charity are involved.

For instance, this is the second year we've held a small Easter egg hunt for the neighbor children, and this year we were able to dye and decorate the eggs beforehand. (Thanks to the help of Annika and Eva, our neighbors and volunteers from Germany, who supplied the dye and decorations!) 

We planned a modest expansion, because really it's not very much of a sacrifice for us to buy a couple dozen more eggs. Logan told me to get 4 trays of eggs (at 30 per tray, that's 10 dozen total) and I bought 4 trays of eggs... in my desire to “be prepared,” I figured our family would be prepared to use about one tray of eggs for omelets and pancakes and muffins or whatnot, and we'd dye and hide about three trays.

Well, it turns out that between my 7.5 dozen and Logan's 10 dozen, we should have gone with my wife's numbers. The egg hunt was wildly successful, and we were so happy to share a little bit of our culture. Some children walked away with two or three or more eggs... this in a place where teachers tell their children to beg their parents to give them one egg a week for the protein and nutrition. We eat eggs all the time, we're comparatively rich Westerners. 

The thing is, an egg is about 75 francs or so, which is less than 20 cents. However, a teacher gets a monthly salary of less than 80 dollars. Comparing the economies of the USA and a developing country is tricky, but in terms of buying power and percentage of income, it's more like each egg costs $5. And here we are, just giving them away! No wonder it was a popular activity with the children. An average family doesn't buy eggs by the trayful... let alone three traysful.

The colored eggs were a bit of a shock to every Cameroonian. Who has ever seen a blue egg? Or a bright red egg with a bunny face? We explained to the children how the eggs represent new life in Christ, and how we celebrate Easter by dyeing and hiding and finding eggs. Then we let them loose, and everyone (including our own children) had a grand old time.

Of course, not everything went smoothly... we told the children to come at 11, and as things were wrapping up and everyone was heading home, a good half dozen or so children showed up, ready to enjoy the mysterious game we invited them to come play. Well... Cameroonians aren't known for their timeliness, so we had started late by 15 or 20 minutes to accommodate... but an hour and a half? Sorry, kiddos. Several of them stayed and ended up playing at our house and reading our books, so at least they got SOMEthing.

Next year, we are talking about dyeing and hiding even more eggs. I'll be prepared—for generosity.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Gabriel's Born House

Instead of a baby shower, the celebration Cameroonians have surrounding birth happens after the baby is born and is called a born house.

The school staff represents our main community in Kumbo. We live on campus with many other teachers and their families. We contribute money to a social fund which then pays out to various life events that a staff member might incur such as deaths, marriages, and births. This money helps with the costs of these events. With births there is a special ceremony attached to the giving of the gift. A delegation of 10 staff members is nominated to attend each and every house that has a new baby. We are a prolific staff, it seems, and there have been over a dozen births since we have landed here. Anyway we were very blessed to be a part of this tradition.

First, Eric and I were told we must prepare the traditional food of kiban and nyoosiji and buy palm wine. We staged our house in the normal Cameroonian party fashion: all the chairs in a circle around the perimeter of the room. We gathered our food (we even had a chicken!), beer and soft drinks for everyone, and the palm wine, then waited for guests to arrive.
The leader of the delegation gave a very touching speech expressing the tradition behind the born house and how it is very important in this culture to welcome the baby as one of the community's own. He said that in Cameroon there is a saying that only before the baby is born is the baby solely its mother's. After the baby is born the baby belongs to the whole community. The born house symbolizes that movement of belonging. The delegation leader expressed his gratitude over us sharing a child with them and how we should feel welcomed into the fold, so to speak. He also encouraged us to have another baby so we could come together and celebrate this time next year!!! He said that we have a nice big African family and that we are respected by the community. The born house is also a time to celebrate children in general and especially the making of them, which is expressed through some hilarious and raunchy traditional dances.
After we were led through the speeches and the presentation of the money we poured palm wine and drank it, a rite which no Banso ceremony can lack. We ate and drank and were treated to a very funny side of the culture; Cameroonians at a born house kick back and their seemingly impermeable reserve shatters and they become raucous, even lewd! We danced traditional style in a circle, round and round again. Eric and I couldn't understand most of the lyrics which were either in pidgin or Lamnso but we insisted upon translations being wrought for us and... wow!

Here are some excerpts from two songs:

Planty for born house, e fine fo chop, oh!
(The plantain of the born house, it is good to eat, oh!)*

Tanyi ker shwafer, wo a fer fer sho!
(Tanyi has a knife, that is used to make babies)
We had a great time! It was one of the most fun and interesting experiences we have had and it really made us feel truly a part of the culture. My heart is full of happiness for Gabriel, who will always have such a warm home here in Nso', the land of his birth.

*This should be read with a “wink-wink, nudge-nudge.”