A Bite of America

Oumi Bathing 
Life continues to be difficult in Lomié, but despite the daily sexual harassment (If I had a penny for every time I hit a man these days…) and my stalker who is always high on cocaine and breaks into my house on a regular basis, I’m trying to make the best of my situation, although some days I’m more successful than others.  A positive new development is my new neighbor Didja, her husband, Djouberou, their 1-year-old daughter, Oumi, and Djouberou’s 10-year-old brother, Yaya. While I could argue that the worst part of Lomié is its people, I could also argue that the best part of Lomié is its people – so I guess it really depends on which people in Lomié we are talking about. The majority of the men, prostitutes, and anyone who consumes alcoholic beverages – bad! Muslims, some women, some children, and anyone from the Grand North – good! So I figured I’d give you a glimpse into my daily life by introducing you to the people I’m in contact with on a regular basis, both work partners and friends/neighbors. It only makes sense to start with my new neighbors, who've shown me much love and compassion through difficult times.

My new neighbor Didja is 18 years old and is married to Djouberou, who is 30-something. Didja hails from the Maroua area in the Extreme North and Djouberou comes from Kenzou in the East along the CAR border. Didja and Djouberou are one of the few the only couple I’ve met in Cameroon that are genuinely in love with each other – and it’s so darn adorable! Djouberou’s family is spread throughout Cameroon, and they all own boulangeries (bread shops). A few years ago, Djouberou left Kenzou to go to Maroua to help at his brother’s boulangerie, and that is where he met Didja. They fell in love, got married (ya know, 15 is really pushing the limit to becoming a spinster), and moved back to Kenzou. After spending a short sejour in Kenzou they moved to Yokadouma to help at another boulangerie, and then they moved to Moloundou to work at another boulangerie, and then 5 months ago they moved to Lomié…to help at another family boulangerie – what can I say, the man knows his bread.

Didja, Oumi and Yaya (who has facial
scars to signify which village he comes
so that if he gets lost, he can be returned) 
A year ago, at the ripe old age of 17, Didja gave birth to Oumi. Yaya is Djouberou’s brother (Didja’s brother-in-law) and in typical Cameroonian fashion, he came with them to Lomié for no particular reason at all. Being from the Extreme North and Kenzou, Didja and family are pretty strict Muslim. Didja is not allowed to leave the house (except to come to my house directly next door). She doesn’t even know where her husband works, which is just a stone throw from my house. Didja spends her days cooking, napping, gossiping with the neighbor girls, insulting passerby prostitutes, learning English from me and teaching me Fulfulde. Oumi spends her days peeing everywhere (on my floor, on me, you name it) and crying at the sight of me. Djouberou is a workaholic and spends his days from 6am to midnight making bread and pastries. Yaya spends his days running back and forth between the house and the boulangerie carrying food and chai or sitting under my prune tree memorizing Qur’an verses and Arabic – “I’m practicing my patois” he always tells me.

For a month or so, after our Fulfulde/English class exchange, I promised Didja I’d teach her how to bake. I introduced her to the likes of banana bread, mango bread, carrot cake, chai cookies, and black bean and carrot brownies. One day she came over and told me that Djouberou was thinking of opening a patisserie (pastry/baked goods shop) in town, which would be Lomié’s first and only patisserie. I thought: ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’. The following day, Didja said her husband bought a location, built a bakery display case, and all he had left to do was install the lights and glass in the case. I was shocked – nothing in Cameroon happens this fast! Didja asked me to write down the recipes of the American baked goods I taught her so that her husband could make them as well. Two days later after he spent all day and night baking in the outdoor stone oven at his brother’s boulangerie, the patisserie opened.

Djouberou and The Patisserie

I went on opening day and to my surprise besides the regular beignets, chocolate croissants, and flavored breads that are typical of any Cameroonian patisserie, I saw that the whole middle section of the display case was filled with the American goodies that I taught Didja to make. There were black bean carrot ‘bronis’ (because the word 'brownies' would confused people), banana bread, mango bread, chocolate peanut butter bread, peanut butter cookies (in the form of a big bread loaf), lemon squares, toffee squares, devil’s food cake, and carrot cake! Now, one month later, the American sweets section has expanded to yet another bakery window, taking up half the display case now! I was so excited to see that a little part of America was being shared with the people of Lomié, but I was skeptical any of it was going to sell. I asked Djouberou how business was and he told me it was going well. I bought a slice of the black bean carrots ‘bronis’ and ate it before I even got my fish and baton de manioc (because it looked too dang good to save until after I ate dinner!). I headed home because it was nearing my self-inflicted curfew (5pm – ugh!) and wished Djouberou good luck with business during the night when the bars get hopping.

The next day I saw Djouberou at 6am on his way to the boulangerie and I asked him how business was. “We sold all of your recipes! I have nothing but beignets left!” I was shocked. Cameroonians love their sweets, so I knew a patisserie would make good business, but I was astounded that the people of Lomié were willing to try my unknown American recipes since Cameroonians don’t tend to try new things much. Djouberou explained that he had to go to the boulangerie and bake all day and that all he was going to sell were beignets since everything else sold out. “The black bean carrot brownies were the most popular!”, he exclaimed. I stood dumb-founded. I guess if you can’t get Cameroonians to eat vegetables at dinner, sneak them into their desert.

Oumi's Typical Expression When I Walk By


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