The Magic Lake in Mbella Asso

Hollowed out log pirogue
I've been pretty stationary in and around village, and haven't yet traveled much or done any sightseeing in the area since I've been so busy integrating, getting settled, and getting projects launched since my move. But now that I'm finally getting everything in order, I want to start exploring my beautiful arrondissement and region. The other day it was my friend and clustermate Liz's birthday, so I made the dusty trek out to see Danfili (her village) and fete with her and two of my other amazing cluster mates (Alex in Mbakaou and Brian in Ngaoundal). Danfili is a large village compared to Ngatt, but it is still without electricity; however, their food options are far more extensive than Ngatt. Danfili reminds me a bit of my old village in respects to size.

Since plans were rescheduled at the last minute and because all the food I had pre-made had gone moldy (yikes!), I woke up at 3am, worked out, and remade the banana bread cake and a Moroccan salad then grabbed the 7:30 bus to Danfili. We had arranged a picnic out at a lake in Mbella Asso, the village just next to Danfili. In the afternoon heat, we motoed out to Mbella Asso and whipped out the food. Unfortunately Liz was a bit sick, so we took it easy and relaxed in the adorable, tranquil gazebo that sits on the water's edge.

The scenery was gorgeous and calm. All the savanna grass around the lake was recently burned in order to avoid a forest fire, so the ground was an ominous, scorched black. Cattle herders walked their cows back and forth between the gazebo and the brousse and children who had just finished fishing with homemade rods began to gather around the gazebo and stared at us until they got bored, which was a bit too long for our liking.

Mbella Asso is also known as the "Magic Lake", though we aren't sure why. It does have quite the magical feel with the scorched earth, fog/smog from the savanna burning, and the mountains that flank the lake (which were obscured by the fog during this trip). The lake is also known to have a hippo population, although sadly we saw none on this trip. However, a week earlier, a family who were fishing on a homemade boat were killed (and eaten) by a group of hippos, so perhaps the hippos merely weren't showing face because they were still full.

Cattle Walking across the Scorched Terrain

We chatted, ate, promenaded around the waters edge, did some bird watching (much to Brian's dislike), and observed the cattle herders and fisherman in their hollowed out log pirogues. The highlight of the afternoon was probably the drugged Fulbe cattle herder. Yes. You heard me.

Liz and I recently discovered from our counterparts that there is this pill that the Mbororo cattle herders take, which makes them, um, enjoy their day long walks en brousse. While the drug might be temporarily 'fun' to these herders, it is actually quite dangerous, which I guess could be said about most drugs. Around Ngatt, there have been several deaths recently where fishermen have died because their boat had capsized and, because of the drugs, they didn't have the wherewithal to get to shore. There have also been reported deaths by cattle impaling the herders, which have again been attributed to these drugs. The drug (whose name I'm forgetting) is secretly sold in most boutiques around town, but it's highly illegal. But it's not like anyone is going to catch the store owners who are selling them, because there is no police force in or around Ngatt.

Such Tranquility

Anyways, this Mbororo man was walking around near the gazebo and he was clearly high on these drugs. He was walking aimlessly around, usually in the opposite direction of his cattle, and he kept spontaneously breaking out in dance. Not just little dance moves, like, I'm talking a full on dance. At one point he continuously danced for 7 minutes straight. At first we thought he was perhaps dancing to get our attention, but then we realized he didn't even so much as glance in our direction. He had no idea we were watching him. He was just in the zone and enjoying having a big, open dance floor to himself. We joked with Liz that we got her a stripper for her birthday because right after this dancing fiasco, the man stripped naked and waded into the Lake, which probably wasn't the smartest idea given the combination of drugs and deadly hippos, but, to each his own!

When our entertainment was over, read: when the dancing cattle herder left, we decided to head back and call it a night. It was a really beautiful day which reminded me how lucky I am to have such an amazing cluster and beautiful region.

Beginning to Dance. I Call this Dance Move the 'Wheres-the-Latrine?' 

Where'd He Learn the Macarena?

And He Just Keeps Going...

Bird Watching

Vibrant Lily's on the Lake

The Adorable Lakeside Gazebo


An Update on Lomie

Yacouba (Right) after the Bafoussam Beekeeping Training
It seems as if I lived in Lomié a lifetime ago. There are days I miss Didja and Djouberou, my old neighbors, and Yacouba, my old Bamoun work partner, and my beekeeping and soy project with the Baka. I still call Djouberou to see how the patisserie he opened is going, and I talk to Didja about how her children are doing, and I call Yacouba on a weekly basis to see what artwork he is creating and I inquire about his rattan business. While a lot of bad things happened in Lomié, there are nonetheless aspects of it that I miss. But just the other day while I was sitting roadside with a couple of Fulbe men watching the cars go to and from Ngaoundal and Tibati, I met one man who is a logging truck driver that passes through Lomié. When I told him I lived in Lomié for a year, he replied with, “Lomié is a bad village. You are very lucky you were not drugged and bad things didn’t happen to you”. It’s moments like that where I remember it was good I was evacuated and I’m reminded of how grateful I am for my calm, welcoming, cheerful village and all it’s old Al-Hadjis and bæuf.

Yacouba in the Governor's Throne He Made
When I was in Lomié, I felt as if I hardly began any projects. Many days I look back and feel like I wasted a year there and I wonder if people will even remember the work I began. It’s discouraging. But this week Yacouba gave me a call and informed me that the work I start is being continued…by him! I knew Yacouba and Atangana were planning on continuing the beekeeping and soy cultivation project, just on a small scale without the grant, by Yacouba’s own kind donation and hard work. Yacouba is a really innovative and business-oriented man who spends all his free time helping others escape out of poverty, while making a buck or two himself. Yacouba’s art projects with the Baka and his interest in preserving their culture and ameliorating their living standards is driving his desire to continue the beekeeping/soy project with them. In the next few weeks they are launching the beginning education sessions with the three encampments I chose long ago.

While Yacouba told me he was going to continue the beekeeping and soy project, he gave me no indication he was continuing the more health-related projects, such as the Baka encampment health causeries. But just this week Yacouba called me and asked, “Where can I find some AIDS resources in Lomié? Can I stop by your old hospital and ask?” When I asked what he was up to, he informed me that due to popular demand, he wanted to continue the biweekly health talks at the Baka encampments, which I had only just barely begun to start before I was evacuated. I was shocked. Yacouba was going to talk about AIDS? In LOMIE?! The health center I worked at began testing everyone for AIDS who came in for a consultation, and the tests showed that 70% of those who came to the hospital had HIV/AIDS, which means the overall population of Lomié most likely has a HIV prevalence rate of well over 50% - it’s sickening and sad. But despite the fact that 1 in 2 people have HIV there, nobody talks about it, even in an informational/education setting. It’s a 110% taboo and off-limits conversation.

Not only am I incredibly appreciative and astounded that Yacouba wants to pick up my health education classes, I’m in awe that he is going to begin with a topic so sensitive as HIV. Yacouba is a man truly born in the wrong country. With this work ethnic, dedication, aspirations, and large heart, this man would succeed and win hearts and minds wherever he was in the world. When I asked him why he was continuing the health projects I began when that isn’t his area of expertise he replied with, “You gave up your time to help us, now it’s my turn to give back and help my community. It’s the least I can do.” I teared up as I thanked him for his endless work, and when we hung up, I realized how lucky I am to have not only a great work partner, but also a true friend. I can’t wait to see what Yacouba achieves in years to come.

Ngatt: A Village Divided, A Village Connected

The Mosque and the Chief's House A Cote - The Center of Village and the Dividing Line between Gbaya and Poulo
During the past month I've been busy getting my projects solidified, and so far I'm happy with what I started in just a little over 2 months. I've got my men's group, which now meets every Friday after prayer; I've got my women's group, which now meets every Sunday afternoon; I've got my weekly pre-natal education sessions on market day; and I've got my newly formed weekly women's small loan group, where each week all the members give $1 to the 'fund' and at the end of the month, one woman receives the 'fund' (~$60) to begin a health or agriculture venture of her choice. I'm looking forward to seeing what the women use their loans for in the new year. Also in the new year I'm planning on starting a quartier (neighborhood) group for the Fulbe women that live around me, since they can't leave their compounds and walk to the school for my village-wide women's group. That group will also just be an excuse for me to get to better know the women that live around me and to give back a little bit to all my dadas that feed me and use my veranda as a napping spot. With all these projects and with the possible grant-funded AIDS testing campaign in February, I'm drawing the line for the projects that I'm starting. I feel confident and happy with what I've got going, and rather than overstretch myself, I'd rather get these various groups and projects on solid ground so that it's a seamless transition when the next volunteer replaces me.

But that isn't what this post is about. In an effort to better enjoy and appreciate the time I have left here in Cameroon and my quaint and friendly village, I've set about to look past the superficial exterior of Ngatt and really analyze and inspect the social and physical aspects which make Ngatt tick. While I enjoy the work I do as a PCV, the thing I enjoy the most about being a Peace Corps Volunteer is getting to better know my village, its people, its culture, and to put to use the skills I learned in college to better understand the area in which I live and work.
A View from the Top of Ngatt to the Bottom

While my academic background is in international relations and political science, I have a deep-rooted appreciation for African and Islamic art and architecture, which I discovered by taking a year of art history courses by one of my favorite professors from college: Dr. DeLancey, who also lived in Cameroon for a long time. So pardon me for delving into the art history nerd section of my heart as I write this post and analyze the spacial organization of Ngatt and its implications on Ngatt's social cohesion.

While Ngatt is just a small village of 1,000 which appears to have haphazardly sprung up out of the ground in the middle of the savanna (though this wouldn't be 100% incorrect), Ngatt, perhaps surprisingly, is a thought out village in terms of organization, which gives great insight into its social relations among the two groups who inhabit Ngatt: The Gbaya and the Poulo (the settled Fulbe).

Sometime between 20 and 30 years ago, Ngatt barely existed. It was just a little encampment whose size is now comprised of our market. My landlord grew up in that tiny Ngatt of yesteryear. Every day he comes to my house to nap on my veranda bed or cool down and drink filtered water in my living room  in order to escape the brutal midday heat. As we sit drinking out of bowls and looking at my maps, Oumarou (my landlord) sometimes reminisces of the Ngatt of his childhood. He recalls his mother sending him and his brothers to the nearest village, Kandje, to buy oil on a weekly basis. Oumarou remembers leaving around 7am after breakfast and returning around 4pm. Given how long it takes to walk from Ngatt to Kandje,  it makes me think his mother sent them merely so they got out of her hair for the day! I wouldn't blame her. Oil is something that is so ubiquitous and abundant in even the smallest villages, so the fact that Ngatt had no oil was testament to how small my village used to be - not that it's current 1,000 inhabitants is by any means large.

Fast forward a few decades and we arrive at the dusty, sandy village of today. The population has grown from its original Poulo inhabitants, and is now 85-90% Poulo and 10% Gbaya, with Mbororo encampments speckling our periphery.

The ethic divide in Ngatt is evident to anyone who spends more than a day here. While the Poulo and Gbaya are amicable for the most part (except for the occasional bucket thievery, which my landlord always insists is the fault of a "drunk, derelict Gbaya"), their social realms are very much separate and distinct. Ngatt sits on a hill, at the edge of the village at the top of the hill live our scant Gbaya population, who are all almost exclusively Christian; therefore, our tiny Protestant chapel also sits atop the hill. Midway down the hill is our market, which divides the Poulo Muslim and the Gbaya Christian sections of Ngatt.

Small Granary in Poulo Neighborhood
When you walk down the hill and traverse the market either by the paved road or by one of the small paths (my favorite), you enter the Poulo section of Ngatt. In the Poulou quartier, which is my neighborhood, we have our Al-Hadjis who sit roadside wrapped in their headscarves from Saudi Arabia, we have our houses concealed by walled concessions, and we have several Quranic schools, where at 6am and 1pm, children gather to write, read, and memorize the Quran, or get whipped if they fail.

The two sections of Ngatt are very much separate and distinct, both culturally, linguistically, and religiously. The Gbaya are Christian, they speak Gbaya, they spend the hot afternoons sitting under mango trees drinking palm wine, they spread folere flowers out to dry  in front of their houses, their houses are exposed to the passerby, they are farmers, and they eat exclusively manioc couscous. Meanwhile, the Poulos are Muslim, they speak Fulfulde, they spend their hot afternoons going to the mosque, herding cattle, or napping on my veranda, they spread corn out to dry in front of their houses, their houses are always walled inside compounds and are shared with extended family, they are cattle herders or Quranic teachers, and they eat exclusively corn couscous. If they are so different, how can these disparate populations find common ground in such a small village?

The Answer: Chief Amadou. Amadou is a really awesome chief who is always supportive of my work and encouraging of my limited Fulfulde skills. He is a young, good looking man in perhaps his mid-40s and is always decked out in a well-embroidered boubou. Amadou's house is located at the crossroad of our market. Our market/'downtown' is in the shape of a 'T', with the 'I' consisting of our few boutiques, our butcher, our shoe repairman, and our beignet girls, whereas the '-' is a path that traverses the village from Poulo section to Gbaya section and it is the 'overflow' section for when outside vendors come to Ngatt's market on Thursdays to sell their mobile phones or large burlap sacks filled with colorful spices and dried leaves. Amadou's compound is located right in the middle of the market, and right in the middle of all Ngatt. Located right next to his house is our main mosque, with its single male date palm, rising up barren without its female counterpart. Being in the center of it all, a middle-man if you so please, is a symbolic bridging of the two populations, but it isn't enough to unite them.
Chief Amadou starting the TIbati vs. Ngatt Football Game

The symbolism of being located in the center of Ngatt is not enough; the chief himself needs to somehow embody both groups in Ngatt, and for that reason, Amadou is perfect. Chief Amadou is Gbaya,  but he is also Muslim, so he literally bridges the divide between Ngatt's populations. Amadou spends a lot of his time inside his compound with his wives, or inside his receiving room with the village's Islamic elders. While all the village elders are all Muslim, the chief's aides, or his little minions as I call them, are all Gbaya. These aides go about setting up meetings, collecting in-kind donations to the chief on market day, and other menial tasks the chief doesn't want to do himself. In all that he does, Chief Amadou does his best to divide everything equal among the two groups he is meant to represent.

While the Gbaya gripe about the stinginess of the Poulos, and the Poulos whine about the drunkenness of the Gbaya, the two groups find a bridge between their two cultures: our chief. He wins the hearts and minds of the Poulos by being Muslim and organizing big fetes for all Islamic holidays, but he is by birth Gbaya, so he automatically has the admiration by our Gbayas. While both neighborhoods in Ngatt are quite different in all aspects, they find common ground in the middle of Ngatt, where their two cultures collide in the form of chief Amadou and his chefferie. While I'm sure Ngatt would function more or less the same without a chief who represents both the Gbaya and Poulo, I would argue that Ngatt is an especially well-organized, motivated, and cohesive village, which is rare in these parts, and I would attribute that to Amadou and the bridge he provides between Ngatt's inhabitants. Ngatt has grown over the past 20 and 30 years and has expanded around Amadou's chefferie and the principle of cohesion it symbolizes and encourages. 


Let’s Talk About Sex

Men's Group

Two projects I quickly got up and running were my women’s Life Skills group and my men’s Men as Partners group. Since men and women aren’t very open with each other, I decided it was best to separate the sexes and have more target curriculum for each group. Each group meets every other Friday between prayer times. Recently, the subjects I’ve chosen have been HIV-realated and I’ll continue the theme until February, when it will all culminate into my HIV testing campaign.

In the women’s group, which usually has about 20 consitant members, we’ve so far discussed making healthy, positive life choices and are just now delving into our HIV/AIDS curriculum. The women’s group is mostly Gbaya women who don’t shy away from talking about sex, and many women ask really amazing questions. In our week where we talked about myths and facts about HIV, they asked really great questions and had a great discussion. One week, two of the women from the group visited me at my house. They admitted they have been HIV positive for over a decade, and one of the woman’s husbands has already died from HIV, but both women are in a good health and each have 10 children. They thanked me for talking about HIV so much and working to combat the stigmatization of HIV. They told me that they know of many women in Ngatt who are HIV+ but who refuse to take the medication and who burn the results of the tests and deny they are HIV+. The two women who visited me encouraged me to start a group for people who are HIV+, which was already in my plans for February. They said they don’t shy away from being outspoken about HIV and offered to help me in all my HIV-related projects. I was overjoyed to find such amazing positive HIV+ women to assist me in my projects!

My men’s group is huge and normally has around 100 old Muslim Fulbe men in attendance. Even the chief of Ngatt comes! I was a bit more sensitive about talking about HIV and sex with this group, since being a woman and talking openly about sex with Muslim men isn’t totally kosher. But all the men are extremely receptive and excited.

The group is really open about having discussions and discussing different points of view. The men definitely know less than the women on various topics, which was somewhat surprising for me.  At one point in the meeting, at least one person mentions something that surprises me, shocks me, or enlightens me more on local perceptions. For example, in our meeting about myths and realities about HIV, they all were extremely confident that using two condoms at once was better than one, which I quickly clarified is not true. In another meeting, when I asked the men if men or women were smarter, the men agreed that either women were smarter or everyone was equal. After they said this though, my Chief raised his hand and said “Men are smarter because they can have 10 wives, but women can’t have 10 husbands, so therefore men are smarter“. The room roared in applause and I awkwardly tried to argue that both sexes are equal without offending the chief.

Last week, I talked more about HIV with the group. The group asked really great questions, but I knew the group still had lingering questions they didn’t want to ask in public. Towards the end of the meeting, I explained using condoms and mentioned in passing that female condoms existed. A few days  after that meeting, I’ve had a man randomly show up to my house and ask to see condoms in the vagina. I was completely confused on what this man wanted, and then I realized he wanted to see a female condom demonstration, much like the male condom demonstration I did with a wooden penis model. I laughed and explained I didn’t have female condoms with me but I would bring them to my next meeting. After the first request to see female condoms, I had a steady stream of men coming to my house asking to see female condoms. Apparently the word has gotten around Ngatt that female condoms exist, and ALL the men are curious.

Quite often I feel discouraged that my work is doing nothing and that nothing is sticking in their brains. But the other day I had a really encouraging encounter with a man who showed up to my house at about 9pm at night. I groggily got out of bed and went to my door. A man was there and he explained that he attends my men’s group and said that he was impacted by my talk about HIV and that because of the last meeting, he wants him and his wife to get tested for HIV before they get married in December. He asked how he is able to get tested and how long it takes. I explained the process and did some pre-counseling with him to explain safe sex practices and I told him how to stay safe if his tests are negative and explained what he will have to do if they are positive. He thanked me and said he would head to the health center tomorrow to get tested. As I went to bed, I felt thankful that while I often don’t see first-hand the impact of what I do in Ngatt, I know at least I impacted one man and his fiancee to get tested before they get married. Not only that, I am extremely happy that people in Ngatt are so open to talk to me about such sensitive subjects, and I hope that over the next year, this openness will translate into reduced stigmatization for HIV/AIDS and Ngatt can set an example for nearby villages. Petit a petite.


Meanwhile in Ngatt...

Tomate de Nassara

Life has finally settled down! My house is furnished (for the most part, but I’m still missing a dresser so my clothes are in wads in plastic bags), I did my needs assessment and have started launching and planning projects. But just because the ‘newness’ of Ngatt has worn off, that doesn’t mean things have gotten less odd. Here’s a glimpse into just a few of the strange things that have happened over the past few weeks.

Eating Termites
One of my counterparts, Housseini, walks into my house eating something out of his hand. I ask him if he is eating peanuts and replies with, “No, boiled termites!” Sure enough, he opens his hand and there is a pile of termites. Naturally, I ask to try some. Thankfully, they were quite tasteless and pretty much taste like those times when you accidentally breathe in a few bugs from the air (please say that doesn’t just happen to me…?). Termites and crickets are culinary…specialties?…of the Gbaya up here in and around Tibati. After the rains leave and the sun dries the ground a bit, termites fly out of the earth and the Gbaya gather around with their mosquito nets and catch the termites. It’s a flying feast.

Abandoning Children Roadside
You know how children are always afraid of their parents leaving them somewhere and driving off, leaving them stranded in a strange place alone? Well, last week I witnessed the abandonment of two children roadside. Last Friday I hitched a free ride to Tibati with my friend and boutiquer Bello. His two sons rode with us since they help load and unload the things that Bello sells at the market. At one of the checkpoints on the way to Tibati, Bello told his sons to get out and push until the car started again (the car is really old). The boys quickly pushed the car started again, but once the engine got going, Bello sped off and left the boys in our dust. As we drove, I asked Bello, “What about your sons?” He replied, “Oh, they're finished,” which didn’t really make sense as a response to my question, but I figured that perhaps they had work in the village where the checkpoint was at, so I didn’t probe further. When we arrived in Tibati, Bello looked over at me and asked, “Did my sons already get out of the car?” I stared at him in confusion and said, “You left them at the checkpoint.” Bello freaked out and then laughed hysterically. He asked me why I didn’t tell him, and I told him that I did try to tell him. He kept laughing at the fact his two boys were stranded roadside somewhere, and then gathered his things and took a moto and rushed to fetch his poor neglected sons.

Child Abuse
I don’t really like children. They have to be either related to me or otherwise very quiet and cute children for me to like them. Here, my house is always bombarded by at least 10 children under the age of 10 at any given moment. I begrudgingly tolerate it - at least until they become too rowdy.  But the other day, some punk kid, who I had just been nice to and given a tattoo and candy, threw a fist-sized rock at my door. I went outside and demanded to know who through the rock. Another small boy pointed down the street. I figured the boy fled and re-closed my door. A minute later, another rock crashed into my door. In a true Cameroonian style, I flung the door open and screamed at the boy, “I AM YOUR MOTHER!”. I picked up the rocks as the kid ran away and threw them towards him (but obviously intentionally missing him). Another youthful boy (whom I actually like) was nearby and shouted “I got him madam!”. He dropped his school supplies mid-path and chased the fleeing 7 year old and pummeled him to the ground before taking him to his mother, so he could get a real ass-whopping. As I shut the door after the fiasco, I told myself I should never have children.

Dumpster Diving
If dumpster diving was an Olympic sport, children in Ngatt would win the gold medal. No matter what I throw in my outdoor garbage bucket, the kids find it useful or a great toy. If I throw out the bottom/roots of lettuce, they dig it out of my dirt-filled, biting caterpillar-infested trash and eat the nasty lettuce nubbins. I’ve learned that any vegetable refuse I toss away gets reused by neighbor children, Malarone boxes are great for making paper planes, broken glass windows make great objects for a newly invented game by the kids called ‘throw the glass shards at each other’. To the kids who frequent my trash (of which there are at least 20), it must be like Christmas every day.

Eating my Garbage
Speaking of dumpster diving…Per Liz’s suggestion on alternative cat foods, I bought dried fish for Metis about 10 days ago and was keeping them in an old oatmeal container. One day I opened up the container and saw the few remaining dried fish that were moldy. I love Metis too much to feed him moldy food, and I didn’t want to really clean out a moldy oatmeal container, so I tossed it all outside in my trash. Not even two minutes later, I peaked outside and noticed it was gone. Later that afternoon, my landlady’s wife sent me some couscous and sauce with…dried fish. I always pick out meat and fish in my sauces and feed them to Metis since I much prefer to be as vegetarian as possible when I can. Later that day I inquired a bit into where my landlord’s wife got the dried fish, since it has been a while since I saw them for sale in Ngatt and I thought it was a odd coincidence that I throw out dried fish and get some dried fish to eat a few hours later. Rougay told him that Abdou (my landlord’s son) found the dried fish outside my house and that is what my landlord’s wife prepared for me. So the moldy dried fish I threw in the garbage earlier had become my dinner. I’m not sure why they would think something that I tossed in my garbage is still something I would want to consume, but at that moment, I was very grateful of my habit of giving my cat the meat in my food - and I think from now on, that will always be the case.

Crazy Cat
Nassara Hair
Another dumpster diving story (noticing a theme here?). One day I cleaned out my hairbrush since something is causing me to loose obscene amounts of hair. I threw my wad of hair in my outdoor garbage, and a minute later, a few girls gathered around my garbage, pulling the wad of hair apart, and braiding it into their own hair. For a few days the girls in my neighborhood had big chunks of red nassara hair braided into their hair. It was pretty funny, and mildly repulsive.

Petrol Baths
I often bathe Metis to keep him smelling fruity fresh, keep his hair soft, and to keep fleas and ticks away. My neighbors find the fact that I bathe him to be hilarious, and now I’m quite positive my whole village knows I bathe with Metis every Friday. I was talking about my reasons for bathing my cat with Ibrahim, my landlord’s brother and one of my favorite people in Ngatt. I told Ibrahim I want to keep ticks away and he suggested that instead of bathing Metis in shampoo and vinegar, to bathe in instead in petrol, since ticks don’t like the smell of petrol (not to mention, neither do I). I told him I didn’t really like the idea of having a petrol-smelling cat sleeping next to me at night. Not to mention, I can only imagine myself lighting a match to light incense and having Metis walk by and be engulfed in flames.

It's Raining Cement
Dry season is mostly here, but there have been a few hail-filled storms over the last few weeks. In addition to finding out my bedroom ceiling leaks a lot, I also found out that the cement on the perimeter of my ceiling is loose, which makes it fall when the rain pounds on the roof. Poor, unsuspecting me was laying on my couch with my earplugs in and reading during one storm, and was in no time impaled in the face by a falling cement chunk. A minute later, a small storm of  cement was falling all around me. Preferring to be drenched by rain rather than falling cement, I decided the best thing was for me and Metis to take cover under my mosquito net and wait the storm out. It was a sight to see.

Prank Calling
The other week Cameroon phone numbers added a digit in front of our numbers. My landlord came over in the morning as I was mopping my porch and asked me to show him how to change the contacts in his phone. I showed him with one contact, and then he asked to see it again with another contact. After I showed him how to add the ‘6’ to at least five contacts, he kept asking to see another, I finally got the hint that he wanted me to change all his 100 contacts for him, but he didn’t want to ask me. I offered and as I went through all his contacts, we made small talk about the phone system in Cameroon. We just got a new service provider called Nexttel and he asked if I was going to get a 3rd SIM. I told him I didn’t want to go through the hassle of photocopying my ID card that is required to get a new SIM. I asked him why photocopies are necessary to get a SIM, and he told me that people used to buy a SIM, prank call politicians and harass them, and then cut the SIM card and throw it out. The government then decided to photocopy IDs so that when people prank call politicians, the government can track down the perpetrators. I find it somewhat hilarious that even Cameroonians find prank calling amusing, and I think it is a really interesting manifestation of expressing frustration with the government.

Hotel Karen
It’s not odd for me to walk outside my door midday and find a random grown adult sleeping or eating on my outdoor bed and porch. Just the other day I walked outside to have my door hit my landlord and his friend stretched out napping on my veranda to escape the midday sun and heat since my porch is the only area that is shaded from the sun. At first I was taken aback every time I found napping neighbors on my porch, but now I find it endearing, and if they end up waking up when I open my door, I make them chai or offer banana bread and we sit and eat together on my outdoor bed.

Theater Time
The other night my landlord and his brother were in my house before the 6:30pm prayer. It was raining and when they realized they weren’t able to leave my house to pray, I offered up two of my prayer mats, fetched clean water for ablutions, and moved aside my living room furniture so they could pray in my house. While they prayed, I made fresh chai tea for us to drink to warm up when they finished. We sat and chatted about Islam and they were impressed with the tiny bit of information I’ve learned since reading a lot of books on Islam and the Middle East over the past few weeks. We chatted about Mecca and they explained how much they want to do the Hadj someday. I mentioned I had a short English documentary on Mecca and they expressed great interest in seeing it. The next day, they came over to my house at 9pm and we started the movie. As time went on more and more people showed up, until 10pm when there were 14 people sitting across my living room floor watching the documentary. I translated the whole thing, and when we finished the film, we watched it again…and then again. After the third time the battery thankfully died, or otherwise I think we would’ve watched it a fourth time and they wouldn’t have left until midnight. No matter how many times we watched it, their reactions were the same: “Kai! Look at all those dates and beans!”, “Kai! Look at the Kabba and the cover!”, “Kai, kai, KAI! Look at all the nassaras!”. The next night at 9pm, a group of people had gathered outside my front door. After ignoring them for 10 minutes, I could tell the group was growing, so I unlocked my door and asked what they wanted. “Theater!” they shouted in unison. Apparently they think that every night at 9pm is now movie night, because every single night since that Mecca movie day, a group gathers and asks to see a movie. I can tell this is going to turn into a very hard-to-break tradition.