I tried to find a “bashful” looking font, but to no avail. It has been too long, I know.
I have been doing a lot of traveling, pondering, processing, and eating (I often laughingly explain to Verena’s family that I am not usually quite this polite and that I do have opinions….but at the moment every piece of bread, type of cheese, and glass of juice is, to me, just as delicious as I keep exclaiming).
I suppose we should take a brief catch-up tour of the past 5 weeks. Don’t worry, you won’t get bored…there will be pictures ;)
“Normally,” I love the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I adore the jovial anticipation in the brisk air, the glowing lights and faces, the jingling music,…the delicious predictability of being with the same loved people, eating the same loved food, using the same loved decorations. Usually the interim time between two major periods or events is awkward (ie. adolescence), but the space between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a perfectly full and lovely space. It is my favorite. I think someone said that it is the most wonderful time of the year ;)
But this year, the 5 weeks between the two holidays have spanned 4 countries, 3 languages, and 2 continents for me. I have gone from the Muslim desert region of Northern Cameroon to Christmas winter wonderland in Germany (separated by two long bus rides, one long flight, a two day stay in Paris, and a 3 hour train lay-over in Switzerland where, yes dad, I left the station and walked around Basil dragging my rolling duffel just to be able to say that I’ve been there ;)
Soooo, I’ll spare all of you the long bus rides and flights and train trips and catch you up with me through pictures….
A Thanksgiving dinner to remind that the holiday is actually not about food but about being thankful!
The red door that you can barely see at the end of this alley-way is the door to my house in Ngaoundere (the town in the North where I did my research). The many topographical differences between the North and the West (where Dschang is and where the other pictures I posted were taken) are apparent in just this one picture. The dirt is dry and tan and deserty and the neighborhoods are mazes of narrow walled paths like this one. It really looks like a different country.
My ‘mom’ Mairamou, my brother Nasser and his favorite stuffed animal, me, my brother Douda. Mairamou and Nasser have the same mother and father while Douda is the son of the father’s second wife. Polygamy is legal and widely practiced in Cameroon, especially in the Northern Muslim areas. In Islam, a man can have up to 4 wives. While my ‘mom’ hopes that her husband will not marry another woman, the two wives of a chief I stayed with in a rural village said that they liked being co-spouses because they could share all of their work and keep each other company. Interesting. Anyhow, Nasser and Douda came over almost every day for dinner and the four of us would usually spend the evenings laughing about Nasser’s truck-driving stories and Douda market-vending tales.
Mairamou at her sewing machine in our cement courtyard. Life in Ngaoundere is always this colorful.
Mairamou’s husband Yaya Ismaila and Soreiya who is the youngest of 3 children and who, at 21 months, already has a spit-fire personality that I adore. I had my only successful Fulfulde conversations with Soreiya as our vocabularies are at about the same level…. “Hello” “Good-bye” “I’m sleepy” “Eat it” “Take this” “Stand up” “Sit down” “Stop that” “You’re back!” etc.
The most joyful person and the best hug-giver in the world, my grandmother (Mairamou’s mom). Both Soreiya and the cat Garcon-neither of whom like to demonstrate affection-run and jump into grandma’s lap when she arrives.
Me making ‘couscous’-corn flour mixed with boiling water and kneaded into playdough- the staple carbohydrate of the North. (Actually, my ‘mom’ was turning the couscous and said, ‘hey, you should have a picture of you doing this to show your family.’ So she sat me down, posed me with the paddle, snapped the picture laughing at my unsuccessful attempts to even move the gooey mass, and quickly took over again to save the bottom from burning and keep lumps from forming. Couscous is not exactly delicious, but lumpy couscous, as you might imagine, is worse.)
Dinner time. A cloth is laid down and everyone eats on the floor with their fingers. The men eat separately from the women (Yaya has his own living room)…except for Douda and Nasser, Mairamou’s brothers. She likes them to eat with her to keep her company.
Bobo (Yaya’s youngest brother who lives with the family so that he can attend school), Abdoul the oldest child, and Soreiya. The kiddo’s eat outside….they, unlike me, love couscous-the white mass in the bowl- with gumbo sauce-the greenish mass. Gumbo sauce is made with some type of greenery and ground ocra which is a thickening agent that gives the previously manageable green sauce the texture of snot. If you can get past the sliminess it actually tastes pretty good.
Yay! Me making something I know how to make! Chocolate chip cookies. Although most Cameroonians put 4-5 sugar cubes into one cup of tea, they don’t really prepare sugary foods. Everyone thought I was crazy for drinking my tea black and they all thought the cookies were too sweet….I thought they were delicious. Interesting how people can be accustomed to certain forms of sweetness but not others.
Yaya owns and runs the neighborhood store. He sells everything from shampoo to rice and the tiny store-front is always crowded. He is from a very poor village family and began selling small items from a tray on his head when he was 13 and there wasn’t enough money for him to continue with school. He saved enough money to buy a cart (to increase his sales) and a bicycle. He became an avid cyclist and entered a national race where he came in first place and won a prize of $100. A wealthy man in the audience was so impressed with his story that he doubled the prize money. Yaya used this money as collateral to begin his own store which has now grown to a very profitable business with three full-time employees and sometimes up to 8 part-time helpers.
This is the henna design that my ‘mom’ drew on my hand for Ramadan. For all special occasions (religious holidays, weddings, births, etc) women draw beautifully intricate designs on their hands and the soles of their feet. The design lasted for about 2 weeks…except on my finger-nails where the tips are still a strange orange color…faintly resembling the bizarre manicures that were popular when I was in middle school.
Me and my girls.
Chatouiller. Ngilkam. I can say “tickle me” in three languages.
This is how everyone carries their children. Sometimes Soreiya and I would go shopping like this which we both thought was awfully fun.
Hapsatou, me and Raissatou in the women’s literacy classroom where I taught and did my research. I think we were working on pronouncing the difference between the words ‘three’ and ‘tree’ in English….which is why Hapsatou is laughing. She was sure that I was say the same word over and over.
A picture from the classroom for which the women created a project proposal themselves. If you are interested, let me know and I’ll send you my paper.
This is the palace of the Lamido of Ngaoundere. The Lamido is the traditional religious and political leader in the Muslim regions.
The mosque in front of the Lamido’s palace and right next to the literacy classroom. Everyday around 3:30 the call to prayer would sound from the speakers at the top of the tower. Mamoudou (the male teacher) would leave the classroom to pray in the mosque and the women would roll out a plastic mat, take off their shoes and put up their scarves to pray in the classroom as, in Islam, women are not allowed to enter mosques.
Where I was the evening of December 16th…..
and where I was on the evening of December 18th. I spent 2 days in Paris with Devon (above) and Emily (not shown ;), my friends from the trip. We spent most of the time eating pastries, marveling at Christmas decorations, and remembering what it is like to be cold.
Shopping district downtown Paris one week before Christmas…I felt like (and probably acted like) a little kid mesmerized by the window display of singing dancing teapots and ooohing and aaaahing at the twinkling lights.
A lovely gingerbread shop complete with darling old lady in Freiburg’s quaint Christmas market.
In Germany, it can’t really be Christmas without a Christmas market bratwurst.
This is Freiburg, the town where Verena goes to university. We climbed a gazillion winding stairs to the top of the cathedral’s bell tower in this picture. We lost track of time and both nearly had heart attacks at the turning of the hour.
Verena and I decorating the Christmas tree. We are happy here because we don’t know yet that the lights that we are so meticulously placing don’t actually work. We put the lights on three times, went to the hardware store twice, and to top it all off, ended up having to tie the tree to the door frame because it fell over in the middle of the night.
Well, that should bring everyone nearly up to date with the goings-on in my life. I hope you have all had beautiful and restful and joyful Christmases.
Happy New Year!
oh, and, I received my Christmas away from home DVD yesterday. I laughed and cried and laughed. Thank you all for contributing and for reminding me that although I’m far away, I’m not forgotten!