Landscaping Chez Aisha in Ngatt

There is a Nigerian proverb that goes “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” I would like to offer my own version of this proverb: “It takes a whole village to trim my yard.”

Rainy season hit with full force in August, and while I have a mostly dust and sand terrain in my compound, it nonetheless is prone to weeds in the rainy season. With all the rain we’ve been getting the past month or so, my ‘lawn’ began to get a bit unruly. My first year as a PCV I couldn't have cared less about the state of my yard, but the appearance of the dirt that comprises my concession is a new-found obsession of mine. In dry season I neatly sweep the dusty dirt to the sides so that the dry ground shows and neat sweep marks are evident through the landscape so it looks nice, clean, and organized. I know, I know, I literally just admitted that I sweep dirt so it looks pretty. I fully accept whatever adjective you might now use to describe me (OCD, bored, obsessed, insane…to name a few).

In rainy season it’s much harder to keep things looking nice since I can’t sweep the dust because it has now all turned to mud. What’s a girl to do?! While I’ve mostly come to accept the disarray of my lawn, I couldn’t accept the ‘jungle’ that has begun to sprout up, which provides endless fodder to the neighborhood goats.

Compared to Lomie, I realize my compound is no jungle, but regardless of this my lawn looks like one when it's compared to my neighbors’ yards. While I love the company the goats provide me, and I don’t object at all to them eating my weeds, I am, however, not so in love with the fact the goats enter to eat the weeds but then set their eyes on greener pastures: aka my garden full of tomatoes, corn and moringa. Realizing these plants taste far better than the rubbish weeds, my plants stood no chance. My tomato plant didn’t survive long at all and half my corn stalks were knocked over by over-ambitious goats. Most of my moringa thankfully survived with the exception of a few fatalities. Not to mention, when the goats come to eat my weeds, they end up inviting all their friends to sleepover on my veranda, which caused me one night to wake with a start at 2am wondering what the rattling at my door was (A thief? My landlord?), nope, a goat scratching his early morning itch.

Anyways, one day I grew fed up of my yard. I’m always looking for an activity to provide me with a little exercise, so I asked my landlord for his machete and I cut my grass the Cameroonian way. Needless to say, taking a machete to my yard took a fair amount of time (2 hours). After I aptly de-weeded the compound, I grabbed hold of my straw brooms and swept away the dirt and weeds, like I do in the dry season.

I was quite a spectacle. Neighbors came from here and there to watch me hack at the weeds and sweep while crouched over. They chuckled, they gave me new brooms, and they offered their words of encouragement. Later, Ismael’s wife came over, evidently very amused by the fact I was cleaning my yard. She rounded up her half dozen children, who soon arrived bearing more machetes, pick-axes, shovels and more brooms. Our small army of 8 worked in the midday sun - scrapping, digging and sweeping. It was a fun and energetic environment with all of us working together, each with their own task. We saw improvement quickly.

It was a wonderful bonding experience, for lack of a better phrase, with Ismael’s wife, who I rarely get a chance to bond with since I don’t speak enough Fulfulde to have a meaningful conversation with her. The effort was really communal, and my yard looks so much better. While my arms were sore after the two hours, it was a fun experience with my neighbors, and my yard looks so much better – see!:

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Final Weeks in Ngatt

A girl sells boiled peanuts during Ngatt's market day

Life has been pretty chaotic lately. Work is busy, as usual, I'm trying to enjoy the last few weeks I have left in wonderful Ngatt, I'm preparing my COS (close of service) materials and getting things ready for my replacement (and hoping like hell that they'll take care of my adorable cat!), and on top of it all I've been busy working on PhD applications....while I have no computer or internet. It's like the 17th century up in here: I hand-write my statement of purposes by candle light, no joke. I guess at the very least it's quaint! It's rainy season and I've been enjoying the tranquility that comes with village life in the Adamawa during the breezy and lush rainy season. I have a new-found proclivity for chilly, drizzle-y days huddled up with tea, under my incredibly fluffy blanket, with a good book and my happy cat in my lap. Oh, and have I mentioned that by 'chilly' I now am referring to weather in the low 70s? Yeah, I might be risking death by returning home to Chicago in December. 

Here's mostly a photo post of what life has included throughout July/August.

This little guy is always sucking up to me in order to get me to give him my soccer ball. During the Fete de Ramadan he and his friends took me to the top of Ngatt's hill where the cellphone tower is and demanded that I do a photo shoot with them all. Nothing pleases kids more than draining your camera battery!

During Fete de Ramadan, every afternoon for a week the Mbororo's (the migrant cattle herders who live out in the savanna) go to the primary school and play tamtams (traditional drums) and dance a strange gender separated dance where the boys line up on one side and the girls line up opposite of them, which is reminiscent of my middle school dances. This photo sums up the kids' energy.

Metis found a new turtle friend the other day. I initially only saw the head of the turtle and thought it was a snake, but thankfully it was just a terrified turtle that was, sadly, soon-to-be dinner for a guy down the road.

Don't mind if I do!

The dog in Spencer's village gave birth and the pups turned 1 month old! Can't say no to a face like that.

7-feet tall corn! Bring on all the endless grilled corn!

Photoshoots in Ngatt
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HIV Testing in Mbakaou and The Lessons of Cameroon

Alex Leading a Education Session with His Counterpart
Cameroon teaches you a wide variety of lessons, one of which is: In Cameroon, nothing ever works, but everything works out. I was reminded of this lesson last weekend in Mbakaou where I conducted part of my HIV testing campaign alongside my wonderful clustermate, Alex. Together we were reminded of this all important Cameroonian lesson (along with other lessons, which I’ll get to) as we tried to make our testing weekend a success and as we tried desperately to search for hippos in Lake Mbakaou.

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? Friday morning I arrived in Mbakaou, a village equidistant from Tibati as Ngatt, but much larger, after I waited for 2 hours in the rain on the side of the road trying to find a car that would take me to Tibati. I arrived in Mbakaou just as the sun was coming out and Alex warmly welcomed me to his house and his village with a big mug of mint chocolate tea (Um, YUM!).

After quickly unpacking, Alex and I discussed the game plan for the weekend. Alex apologizing repeatedly for not having set plans, but I reminded him that usually in Cameroon that works out for the best. Once we were properly caffeinated, we decided to go to the chefferie in the center of town and immediately begin the education sessions and testing. When we arrived to the chefferie we found it locked. Alex said the chief promised he’d allow us to use it that day, but when we tried to find the chief, we discovered he was in his fields with the vague return time of “sometime later today”.

Okay, change of plans. I suggested that if we don’t have the option to test Mbakaou that day, then we use the free time to hit some villages nearby, which would maximize our reach. We decide to reschedule the Mbakaou testing for Saturday, which we deemed even better since it was a market day. After rendezvousing with Alex’s counterpart and the health center nurse, we quickly rented a moto, bought gas and made our way to Gantang. See? Things didn’t work, but they still worked out!

Gantang is a small Gbaya village maybe 5 km outside Mbakaou. Everyone gathered in a circle on their plastic chairs as they listed to me discuss transmission, prevention and stigma. When I finished, Alex whipped out the wooden penis to do a condom demonstration amidst stifled giggles. When we finished, the nurse tested everyone and when the tests were completed, Alex and I joined in to assist in the post-test counseling, where only one person had an ‘uncertain’ test result. Good news!

We quickly packed our materials and made our way to Naskoul, a village 2km further down the road. Naskoul is a bit larger and a crowd of unruly young men were already gathered - prime targets for our campaign! I met the chief, introduced myself, and was then held up for a good 20 minutes as he tried relentlessly to flirt with me despite my insistence that I was ‘married‘. While I was trapped in the flirtation ambush, Alex was playing with the kids and scaring them away (thank God!), and the nurse was doing the testing.

After escaping from the flirtation ambush, I walked over to the nurse alongside Alex and we noticed he was throwing the dirty needles uncapped on the ground. Alex told him to cap the syringes before someone steps on one but the nurse said that was too great a risk to himself. How does that saying go? “Sacrifice a few for the many?”, well, in Cameroon apparently it goes something like “Sacrifice the many for me”. The nurse's willy nilly tossing of bloody needles all over the place might have been fine in his eyes, it wasn’t in our eyes. I went back over to the chief and asked for a receptacle to throw the needles in before the kids nearby decide that they’d make awesome toys. After dealing with his flirtations some more, he agreed and fetched us a bucket. The nurse left Alex's counterpart and I to pick up the uncapped syringes one by one praying to God neither I nor anyone else gets stabbed in the meantime.

40 tests later and it was time to do the education session again. I gave Alex control of the session this time so he could practice his French. When it came time to do the condom demonstration, the tipsy men roared with laughter and a few more tossed back whiskey sachets. What better environment to drink in than watching two white kids put condoms on wooden penis? I gave the female condom demonstration (which never ceases to be a spectacle) and some men asked for encore presentations - um, no.

Drinking Sachets in Naskoul
Post-test counseling was quick, with only two tests out of 40 coming back as ‘uncertain‘. The sun began dipping below the horizon as we headed to Boulintin (me with a live chicken in my arms on the moto) to alert them that we‘d test there on Sunday. Just as the sun set, Alex, his counterpart and I returned to Mbakaou famished and fatigued. Alex and I rendezvoused with the chief who returned from his field to confirm that he would unlock the chefferie for Saturday. Alex and I went to get fish, as Mbakaou sits on the edge of Lake Mbakaou, and we bought a 1.5ft long fish for $3.00. After gorging on the succulent fish and baton de manioc, throwing back a few whiskey colas, and watching a couple episodes of The Daily Show, we called it a night and rested up for the large testing event the next day. So as we saw, things didn’t quite work as we planned, but they still worked out.

Saturday was meant to be our large testing campaign since Mbakaou it is a big village, and because it was market day we anticipated even more people. After a quick breakfast of beans and eggs we made our way to the chefferie which was (astonishingly) unlocked and cleaned up (thanks, chief!). The friendly chief greeted Alex and I and thanked us for doing the testing campaign (no problem, chief!). As I set up the room for the day, Alex went to the health center to find the nurse so we could have him start taking blood. As I arranged the room and exchanged pleasantries with the chief, Alex called me in a panic: “So it looks like the nurse lied to us. They don’t have three bottles of chase buffer, they only have the ¾ of a bottle which we were using yesterday”. Chase buffer is the liquid that goes on the HIV tests along with the blood. It was the one thing which my hospital is short on, so I told Alex to tell his health center to acquire and donate to our cause - the only thing they had to contribute to this big testing campaign. They told Alex weeks prior that they had 300 tests worth, so basing everything on that figure, I brought 300 HIV tests. Turns out, the man lied and really only had about 100 tests worth. Go figure. Had we had known in advance they didn’t have enough chase buffer, I could’ve seen if I could have bought some more elsewhere, but alas, no, they chose to lie instead. That’s another lesson that Cameroon teaches you: Lie like your life depends on it so that you can put off the other party’s disappointment until a later time. Cameroonians love lying to you, endlessly. So realizing there was nothing we could do, I told Alex to bring what they had so we could at least begin and play it by ear - perhaps we’ll have a low turnout in which case we won’t even finish the chase buffer they’ve got!

Well, I was wrong. The testing was wildly popular, which in any other circumstance would be great, but when you have to turn people away because of someone else‘s error (curse you, nurse!) well, then it sucks. We tested in batches of 20 people, did our small group education talk, and then individually gave them their results and post-test counseling. When we had tested 125 people, however, the chase buffer ran out. I called pharmacies in Tibati, my health center and other people to see where (or if) we could buy more, but it appeared as if it’s only sold along with the tests, which we had plenty of. We closed up shop and Alex kept apologizing for the lack of chase buffer, which wasn’t his fault in the slightest. The man whose fault it was (the nurse) didn’t acknowledge his error or apologize for lying repeatedly to Alex and me. On top of that, he also didn’t realize the danger of all the uncapped syringes that overflowed the garbage bin (again!), which I took to calling the “bin of death“, which once again Alex’s counterpart and I were left cleaning up and disposing of. Figuring since we could no longer test in Boulintin like we intended to on Sunday, we instead planned to try our luck at finding hippos.

Sunday came and our hippo contact told us to arrive in Boulintin at 8am to meet with the fisherman who’d take us out on the lake on a canoe with a motor attached (so we could quickly escape the hippos should the need arise). Given that Douala apparently hasn’t been getting much rain, Lake Mbakaou’s water level is extremely low because all of it is being sent to the hydroelectric plant in Edea to power Douala; consequently, the hippos are easily spotted in the low water, making it the perfect time to try to catch a glimpse of them.

Lake Mbakaou
Alex and I made our way to Boulintin where we met up with Jean (the contact who knows the fisherman), who claimed he spoke with the aforementioned fisherman the night before and arranged everything. As we waited for a while in Jean's house, he insisted “He’ll be here soon!” Well, he wasn’t. After spending an hour or so listening to Jean ask me questions about Chuck Norris (please, kill me now), Alex and I decided we should just go down to the lake and wait for the fisherman there. When we arrived, the fisherman was nowhere in sight. Go figure. Another man claimed that he was out fishing, clearly unconcerned that he had an appointment with us over an hour ago and was therefore wasting our time. We waited another 45 minutes and then we started getting anxious and doubting if he was going to arrive. Jean, recognizing our not so subtle restlessness, finally took to yelling the fisherman’s name into the lake in hope he’d here. Yeah, that’s effective.

30 or so minutes later the fisherman rowed back to shore. We quickly greeted him, negotiated the price and got ready to set up and leave.
“But wait!” the fisherman cried, “I first need to go to Boulintin to fetch the motor for the boat!”
“You don‘t have it with you even though you knew since last night we were coming?” I asked.
“Oh no, no, no” he replied. What a preposterous idea: to think a Cameroonian would do such a thing as plan ahead!

So off he went on his moto and Alex and I plopped back down in the sand as I doubted if we’d see him again. In this exchange I was reminded of several other lessons that Cameroon teaches you: (1) Always, always bring a book to read, because no matter what, you will wait everywhere for a long period of time; (2) Don’t assume Cameroonians will plan ahead or ever be prepared, even if you have previously discussed whatever the event may be; and (3) Cameroonians will always waste your time (and not care in the slightest about it) because you are odd since you don’t function on African Time.

After another 20 minutes or so, Alex cast a dubious look at the darkening sky on the horizon and I cast mine at the fierce sun which seemed determined to render my sunscreen worthless. Finally Jean suggested we paddle out to the canoe that we’d take to the hippos. We piled in a small canoe and made our way to where other canoes were docked. We pulled up to one particularly submerged pirogue and I jested, “I hope that isn’t our boat” thinking in no way that it could be. But oh! Alas! It was.

Alex and I waded our way out to the boat as Jean got into the sinking boat and began scooping out the water. Alex and I looked on skeptically, mumbling “Du Courage” every once and awhile as the submerged boat began to surface and the murky water and fish who made the canoe their home were thrown out. After another half hour or so passed and our pirogue was as waterless as it was going to get, Alex and I got weary again.

“Do you have his phone number?” I asked.
“He’s not answering”, Jean replied.
That’s a great sign, right? As I asked Alex how long we should wait before we give up, we heard a moto approach.
“Is it him?” Alex and I repeatedly demanded as the moto grew closer.
“Yes, yes, it‘s him“, said Jean, “Oh….wait….maybe not….”
When the moto arrived the driver was not our shifty fisherman friend. The moto driver conversed with Jean in Gbaya for a minute and Alex and I asked what was happening.

The River that Leads from the Dam
The moto driver turned to us with a shadow of a smirk on his face and said, “Oh, his mother died, so he isn’t coming”. I was immediately skeptical as this is often an excuse used by Cameroonians to get out of things they don’t want to do (what happened to the ‘I’m ill excuse‘? Why your mother died?). And given the driver’s grin, I was even more skeptical that this statement was a fact. Dejected (this was the fourth time hippo spotting has fallen through for Alex) we got on the moto to head back to Boulintin, but instead were dropped a ways off. As we walked to Boulintin, Jean pulled up with a different moto and took us to Mbakaou.

On the way we stopped to see the Mbakaou dam and when we got off the moto a self-important guard asked for our ID cards, which I had left at Alex’s house since IDs are never checked outside of checkpoints. What did this fool think we were there to do? Blow up the dry dam? Does he really think we snuck into Cameroon somehow without having the proper documents (and anyways, who in his right mind would want to do that??). The guard quickly let up about asking for my ID but as I took out my camera the guard insisted pictures were forbidden (what, is the dam some well-kept Cameroonian secret? No!). Alex insisted that he’d taken pictures there many times before, but the guard insisted on being a pain in our ass, so instead of giving the guy any more satisfaction in harassing us, we went back home.

So back to that all important Cameroonian lesson. Clearly at this moment things were definitely not working. Intent on making things still work out in the end, and given that we were intent on seeing at least some type of wild animal, we went to a man’s house who has crocodiles. Apparently 20 years ago a fisherman caught two crocodiles and on his way to go sell them he was caught by wildlife guards who informed him he could either pay a fee and give the crocodiles to the guards (who’d probably sell the crocodiles themselves) or the fisherman could keep the two crocodiles. Paradoxically the fisherman couldn’t release them back into the wild. So the man decided to keep them, for crocodiles make wonderful pets, do they not? I’m not sure what the fee that the man was asked to pay but it was probably a lot cheaper than what this man has spent on feeding these two crocodiles for the past 20 years, because they are huge. The fisherman built them a big open pit in his yard where he allows visitors (read: PCVs) to come see them. Alex and I bought a cow heart, split it in two, and we each tossed a half to each of the crocks. As we stood and watched the crocodiles move about their little habitat, I couldn’t help but think of what a great addition these two crocodiles would make to my compound in Ngatt - any time a child would annoy me, I’d just have to dangle the annoying kid over the pit and they’d behave real fast. Sadistic? Maybe. Effective? Certainly!

So there you have it. Things don’t work here, but they always work out. The testing campaign didn’t go as planned, but we still got 125 people tested, and since I’ve returned to Ngatt, I’ve acquired another 200 tests worth of chase buffer, so we already have a new testing weekend scheduled for September. We didn’t get to see the hippos, but I got to throw a raw cow heart in an open pit to two ferocious crocodiles. So, things worked out in the end, somehow, as they always seem to do in this dysfunctional functioning country.

Crocodiles in Mbakaou

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A Week(end) Getaway

Empty Beaches

As my time wraps up here in Cameroon, I keep finding myself faced with two conflicting emotions: One being that I want to spend all my time in Ngatt, enjoying quaint village life - and the other half of me wants to just say “Hell with it!” and spend my time doing whatever pleases me, wherever it pleases me. The past month or so has been me doing the latter. After I finished taking the GRE I spent a week in Makak in Spencer’s village before I returned to Ngatt for a week, only to travel back down to the Grand South again a week later. The past week and a half or so has been me spending time on the beach and once again in Makak relaxing, which I think is much deserved given all the HIV work I’ve been doing and all the stress I’m under applying for PhD programs.

A week ago I traveled the 26+ hours by bus down to Kribi, the beach town in the South region, from my village and met up with Spencer to celebrate his birthday with the feeling of sand between our toes, the sound of waves filling our ears, and the taste of pizza and cocktails lingering on our taste buds.

As always, our 3 days in Kribi were not long enough. It’s rainy season (and therefore low season), so besides a handful of European white guys and their Cameroonian wives/girlfriends, we were pretty much alone at our hotel. We saw Lobe falls again, walked up and down the beach, and Spencer even taught me how to play in the frightening-looking waves (and this time my camera wasn’t stolen!). Perhaps best of all was the food, which I needed after the lackluster food of Ngatt and Makak - we enjoyed rich pizza and cocktails every night, and feasted on fresh shrimp and sole during the days on the beach or at the fish market. While the weather was overcast, time on a beach can never really be bad. The empty beaches, cool weather (a rarity), and no sunburns made for a fun and relaxing getaway (and hopefully an enjoyable birthday for Spencer) before I continue with more HIV campaigning (this week to be held in Mbakaou with fellow PCV Alex) and finishing up other odds and ends of projects.

View from Fish Market

Lobe Falls

Lobe Falls
Sole and Shrimp on the Beach

Our Hotel

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Eating in Cameroon

Market Day Beignets
I’ll be the first to tell you that nothing kills your appetite like living in Cameroon for nearly two and a half years. While the food may be ‘exotic’, fine, and maybe even good for the first few months, after the repetition of the same dishes day in and day out (multiple times a day), it gets old…fast. For about a year now, I have little appetite for anything a Cameroonian serves me, nor much for what I cook for myself given that my dishes all revolve around the one vegetable I can buy once a week in my village: onions. Nevertheless, I’m sure once I return Stateside and have fully satiated my appetite with fresh fruits and vegetables, Chipotle, sushi, Chinese, and basically whatever else I can get my filthy maw and paws on, I’m sure I’ll mutter every once a while “Man, I wish I had a warm plate of folere/gombo sec/koombie!” Oh, who am I kidding! I don’t think I’ll ever satiate my appetite for America’s variety in fresh produce!

This is a post I should’ve done probably when I got to Cameroon, but I feel it is particularly salient now that I despise nearly every Cameroonian dish (except folere…that doesn’t get old unless I get it 15 times a week) and now that I’ve tried just about every standard Cameroonian meal, both of the Grand North and the Grand South. I also want the rest of the world to recognize the food problems that us volunteers in Cameroon live with.
Folere and Couscous Dinner Chez Moi

But before I describe the typical diet of a Cameroonian, I need to explain something about Cameroonian cooking culture: its immutability. Seriously, Cameroonians never experiment and deviate from the rigid recipes they are taught. Okay, to be fair, I did know one Cameroonian who experimented, and that was my old neighbor in Lomie who opened up an American bakery with my recipes and even sold black bean and carrot brownies - but he is unique. If a girl is taught how to make folere sauce from her mother, she never deviates from this way of making it - she won’t add more peanut butter or more Maggi, she will keep everything the same every time. While there are some regional varieties of dishes, for the most part, they are all synonymous.

Speaking of Maggi, everything in Cameroon (except beignets) has ubiquitous amounts of Maggi in it. What is Maggi? It’s a little MSG cube of random spices (most of which is salt) that kind of tastes like an Asian spice, but also just kind of tastes like what it is: an MSG blob of salt. I once cooked a big pot of American-style bean chili for my landlord’s family, and while I was finishing up dumping my taco spices and hot peppers in the pot, my landlord’s wife came over and crushed 10 cubes of Maggi into the pot as I screamed “NO!!!!!”. She wouldn’t have it - no dish tastes good (apparently) without ample amounts of Maggi. The product of my labor was an Asian-Mexican-fusion chili.

Also, using a sauce for something other than eating with Cameroonian-style couscous, well, that’s a big no-no. I once was taught how to make folere sauce by my neighbor, which lead to a dispute over my not wanting to add a cup of oil and her insisting that 1 cup of oil is absolutely necessary since that’s the recipe. When I begrudgingly let her pour in 1 cup of palm oil to my displeasure, I then served the folere on top of Moroccan-style couscous, to the utter appall of my neighbor, who insisted that what I was eating was not a meal unless I eat Cameroonian-style couscous, which is a blob of corn, manioc, or rice mush and not remotely similar to its homonym.
So Much Oil (Beans for Breakfast)

Oh and speaking of oil, Cameroonians love their oil - red palm oil, regular palm oil, cotton oil, you name it, they love it so long as l’huile is in the name. Everything (and I mean everything) here is dunked, fried, or sitting in oil. Cameroonians are quite apt at taking a perfectly healthy leafy vegetable, boiling it down to a nutrition-less pulp, and then boiling it in a liter of oil, ready to serve over a plate of nutrition-less corn couscous. I never knew something so healthy could become something so inexplicably perverse. My realization that Cameroonians love oil and frying things came to a fore when at the last fete de Ramadan in Lomié my neighbor brought me a fried baguette loaf as if the un-fried variety was somehow substandard or too banal.

Now that you know the basic food culture of Cameroon, or perhaps the lack thereof, let us now turn to what we volunteers eat:

    1. Folere: The typical Grand North food, and the only Cameroon dish I like at this point. It’s made with hibiscus leaves that are cut, boiled down, and added with oil (duh), Maggie (duh), and peanut butter along with some piment peppers. Served on top of a blob of corn or rice couscous.
    2. Sauce de Feuilles de Manioc: This sauce is one I was familiar with from Sierra Leone, and it’s likely my second favorite meal in country, especially when cooked in lots of piment. This sauce is made from manioc leaves that are once cut, boiled down, and added with oil (duh), Maggie (duh), and maybe some vegetables if they are available…which they aren’t in Ngatt. Served on a blob of corn or rice couscous.
    3. Gombo and Gombo Sec: Gombo is an okra sauce. Regular gombo takes the viscous okra, cuts them up and perhaps grinds them, boils it forever and then is added to oil (duh), Maggie (duh) and perhaps some meat, and what results is a super slimy thick sauce that falls off your blob of couscous far too easily. Gombo sec (dried okra sauce) is the same thing but instead of fresh okra, dried okra is used. This is common during dry season when fresh okra isn’t available. I much prefer this variety since it is less slimy and thick, and therefore far easier to eat. My landlady also puts more piment in the dried variety, which gives it some flavor, as apposed to the bland fresh version. Served on top of a blob of corn or rice couscous.
    4. Bokko Haako: Not to be confused with Boko Haram, this sauce is made from dried and ground up baobab leaves. This green powder is sold in our market year-round in little plastic bags. It tastes unremarkable, at least the way my landlady makes it. It’s pretty  much like green, grainy water that tastes faintly like a leaf, but mainly like piment and Maggi, and, of course, served on rice or corn couscous. I liked it the first few times I tried it, but during dry season my landlord’s wife made this twice a day nearly every day, which got old…fast.

      5. Kélé-Kélé: I despise this dish. It’s probably my second to least favorite dish in Cameroon. It’s slimy and doesn’t taste like anything but perhaps drinking viscous snot, and also tastes and feels similar to when I add Metamucil or Psyllium Seed powder to a bottle of water for some fiber and leave it in there until it congeals. Yes, not pleasant at all. In Ngatt we don’t have fresh Kélé-Kélé like in Lomié, so they use dried Kélé-Kélé instead, which sits in our market week in and week out. It is probably as void of nutrients as a leafy green can get. My landlord’s wife loves making Kélé-Kélé during dry season, since it is really one of two things that are available in dry season. I’ve never seen how it is made, but I can’t imagine it is prepared in any other way than boiling cut and dried leaves in water till the sauce congeals and then adding some Maggie and lots of oil (for flavor…). Served on top of rice or corn couscous.
      Market day Beignet Options
      6. Sauce de Pistache/Arachide: This sauce, either made from peanut butter or pumpkin seed butter, is also quite tasty when not consumed every day. It’s pretty easy to make, it’s just oil, water, Maggie, piment, and then mixed with either paste from peanuts or a paste from pumpkin seeds. It’s not a thick sauce, so this one is usually served with plain rice. This is more of a Southern dish, so I hardly ever eat it in my village.
      7. Ndolé: I’m not even going to waste my breath on this one. Hands down the worst sauce in Cameroon. It consists of these big leaves that are ground and boiled down, mixed with dried fish, and God knows what else. Literally the worst.
      8. Tomato sauce: Oh, don’t go thinking this is tomato sauce as in what you add to your pasta at home (be content with those veggie or meat-stuffed sauces, you American snob!). No, this sauce is made from tomato paste, which is sold in plastic sachets in every village, and watered down and mixed with ample amounts of oil. That’s it. Mmmm tasty. Nothing like eating watered and oiled tomato paste with white rice. How appetizing!
      9. Poisson Braissé: Grilled fish is common in Cameroon, especially up here near Lake Mbakaou. This is not a meal you eat during the day. Don’t ask me why, but fish mamas don’t come out until after dark. Basically any fish can be grilled, but my favorite is carp (tilapia), which is from Lake Mbakaou and my least favorite is mackerel, which is all that Spencer has in his village. I love a good grilled tilapia perhaps once a month when I’m in a big city, since I can’t really get them in Ngatt (we have fish, but is isn’t grilled fresh, but rather is grilled and then walked around village on a plate all day). When buying grilled fish, you can order either the head, the tail, or the whole fish. It’s served in its entirety, bones, eyes and all, and you use your fingers to pick the meat off. “Red Sea” in Bertoua had the best grilled tilapia (coincidentally from Lake Mbakaou) - they were huge and she served them with lemon wedges dipping sauces which included mustard, piment, mayo, and a pesto-like sauce (condiment vert) for dipping.
      10. Bush Meat: This was more of a thing in Lomie, but it’s also consumed by the Gbaya in Ngatt, who aren’t Muslim and therefore have no restrictions of the nasty crap they can eat. Bush meat can be anything that isn’t beef, chicken, fish, or pork - so that means it ranges from antelope, to pangolin, to monkey or dog. I always avoid this, and if I wasn’t trying to, the smell itself would be enough to deter me.

        11. Beignets: How could I forget beignets, which are literally the one food sold consistently in my village day in and day out. These friend dough balls, not unlike American doughnuts just without the icing and chocolate, are sold in many varieties: there are plain flour beignets, there are corn flour beignets which my landlord’s wife makes every day and they are fantastic when piping hot, there are white bean flour beignets which taste like chicken nuggets when eaten really hot but are disgusting when eaten day-old, there are flour beignets that are served flattened rather than in a fluffy ball, there are rice beignets, there are banana corn beignets, there are manioc flour beignets…and on and on and on. Who knew there were so many different ways to eat various types of fried flour without adding icing! I’m quite partial to my landlady’s hot, fresh corn beignets and the manioc banana ones that are in Spencer’s village. In Ngatt, every market day and Friday (prayer day) dozens of young girls line up with their basins of beignets in front of them to sell to the shoppers. 10 little beignets cost about 20 US cents. I’m always amazed on market day at the number of girls who line up and all the beignets there are and the fact that my small village somehow manages to consume them all.
        Baton de manioc and Chicken in Yaounde
        12. Bouille: This is a traditionally breakfast food, or a food served frequently during Ramadan. It’s usually served alongside beignets. Bouille is a porage made from flour, rice, lime and peanut butter. It’s quite tasty and tastes like any other porridge. Other Cameroonian breakfast foods include omelets, which are eaten all day but aren’t available in my village, or rice with a sauce, or beans in lots of oil.

        While what I listed above is ‘village food’, I have to admit, we do have more variety in Yaounde and regional capitals. For example, in Yaounde we can eat shawarma, Turkish food (super expensive), Indian (closed for renovations), Chinese, pizza (again, expensive), grilled fish, Lebanese, grilled chicken (Spencer’s favorite), or hamburgers (aka nasty frozen patties), milkshakes (super expensive, again), or salads (my favorite). Eating out in regional capitals and Yaounde is quite expensive, however, if you are there for more than a day or two, which is why I usually opt to make use of the fresh vegetables and cook for myself to save money. But sometimes, even spending a ridiculous amount of money is worth it for the taste of a mediocre pizza.

        Well, there you go - that’s an idea of my typical diet when I don’t cook for myself (which consists of eggs, popcorn, oatmeal or lentils). I’ve got 3.5 months left in Cameroon before I travel to Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia and Armenia. That means just 3.5 months left of my un-diverse un-nutritious Cameroonian diet until I can finally be reminded how good food is elsewhere - not to mention be reminded of my mom’s amazing homemade cooking, which I haven’t had for 2.5 years! My mouth is already salivating and my grocery shopping list for my mom is already quite extensive.

        Manioc Leaf Sauce Way Back When in Bokito During PST
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