|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.