Archive for October 2009

Cameroon Journal: Ernest

October 31, 2009

8 June 2006

Ernest stopped by yesterday. He works at the cab stand in town. He began explaining  (after a while of sitting there and staring at me) that he’d had some kind of weird head injury. The injury had been scanned, he told me, and could only be treated in the U.S. He started asking me if I could help him to get a visa. I explained that I had no personal connections in the government. Beth told him he’d have to get an application from the embassy.

Ernest told us that he had an uncle in the U.S. who would pay for his plane ticket and give him a place to stay in the states if he could get himself a visa. Beth explained later that often immigrants in the U.S. will tell their relatives here that they will buy them a plane ticket if they can get a visa, banking on them not being able to get the visa. Ernest asked what kinds of foods I like. I told him that I like chin chin, which are 1cm cubes of sugar cookie dough that has been deep fried.

It occurred to me later that Ernest was asking about my food preferences because he wanted to bring me some foods that I would like. It’s easy to think cynically that he would plan to bring me a gift in order to make me feel obligated to help him with his immigration plans. But these sorts of relations, and issues of obligation in general are more complicated here.  I’ll admit that I am unable to determine the truth or seriousness of his medical condition.

Banff: Morraine Lake. Photo of the Week #4

October 29, 2009

IMG_0316focal length: 36mm, aperture: f/8, shutter: 1/125 sec.

Morraine Lake is a glacially fed lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Elevation: 6,183 feet. The amazing color of the lake is due to refraction of light by “rock flour.” As the glacier grinds the mountains, finely powdered rock is washed into the lake and suspended in the water.

Cameroon Journal: More fun in Fontem

October 28, 2009

In which we visit the SDO, and Ña Ngep devours a rat

7 June 2006

Last night we went to the SDO’s house (the Senior Divisional Officer, a sort of regional mayor). We climbed up a winding road to the top of the hill that lifted his house above the surrounding  area. His house is the highest point in the village. We watched satellite TV there: tennis, soccer, Afghani conflict, shin kicking (a British sport), a boy with three arms now has two arms. Yesterday’s date was 6/6/06, the sign of the beast. The TV informed us about superstitious people who induced labor in order to have their son a day early so that his birthday would not fall on 6/6/06.


The SDO's Hill

There were lots of kids at the SDO’s house. I had a coke. It was good. Then I had a glass of wine. It was not good. The SDO usually drinks wine in his coke. Interesting. It probably would have made the wine more drinkable. I thought we would get dinner at the SDO’s house, but we did not. This is probably just as well. I think the richer a Cameroonian family is, the more likely they may be to serve us some weird mysterious meat that could be tricky to refuse, but I am not going to eat any monkeys.

As I mentioned earlier, when you get a drink in a Cameroonian household, the host will send a child out to a bar to get the refrigerated drink. This usually takes ten or fifteen minutes. I feel bad for the kid who had to descend from the SDO’s compound and back up with a drink.  Providing guests with a drink usually costs more than it would to feed them a whole meal. So, usually when you’re a guest in someone’s home here, they’ll offer food or drink, but not both, unless they happen to be eating at the time themselves, or it’s a special occasion, like the first time you have visited. When we got home I was hungry. We cooked delicious mac and cheese with Laughing Cow™ cheese and chopped tomato.


Ña Ngep roosts on a napping Beth. Mosquito net in the background.


Not long after going to bed, we heard Ña Ngep, Beth’s cat, killing someting under the desk. A flashlight revealed the victim as some sort of rodent. I think “kangaroo rat” would be an appropriate name for this poor creature. We tucked the mosquito net in all the way around the bed so that Ña Ngep would not bring her prey into the bed as a gift for us. She took the dead animal under the bed and we heard awful bone crunching, organ squeaking, skin tearing and sinew popping sounds for 10 or fifteen minutes. Then the cat began meowing because she wanted to come visit. So loves sleeping on Beth or me or in between us. But Beth said, “No, your jaws are bloody. You can’t come visit.”

add to :: Digg it :: Stumble It! :: :: post to facebook

Cameroon Journal: Dschang and Fontem

October 27, 2009

More on Cameroonian food, and my first encounter with Malaria


A nationwide view: The locations of places mentioned in the first 3 journal entries. The "A" pin marks the location of Fontem, Beth's post village. Click for larger version.





5 June 2006

People here shake hands—a lot! The same person will shake your hand 3 times in a five minute conversation.  Today one woman on the street shook my hand and then transferred it to her other hand so that she could hold onto it while we talked.  We are in Beth’s village, Fontem, now. We stayed here last night.  The previous night we stayed with a woman named Lindsay, an independent (self-funded, non-Peace Corps.) American volunteer in Dschang, a moderate sized Francophone city, about two hours by bus from Fontem. Staying at Lindsay’s was fun. She had coffee and tea and a generally well stocked kitchen.


Lindsay's Kitchen. Note there's a faucet on the left wall, but no sink.


Yaoundé: Cameroon Journal Continued

October 23, 2009

Yaoundé, Cameroon

Yaoundé, Cameroon

2 June 2006

We’re in Yaoundé. Yesterday morning I slept in, but I feel adapted to the time zone now. Beth and at least a dozen other Peace Corps voluteers (PCVs) are in Yaoundé right now to prepare a training session for the upcoming year’s batch of new PCVs. I stayed in the hotel during the morning session. During her coffee break, Beth came back and brought me a banana and a pain au chocolat. When PCV’s of Cameroon are in the capital, they generally stay in a compound called “the case” (pronounced like ’cause’ because it’s French). But the Peace Corps has a firm policy of only allowing PCVs to stay in the case. So I am in a hotel just next door. (more…)

From the Vault: Cameroon Journal

October 22, 2009

(in which I bribe a customs official)


1 June 2006

I arrived in Douala the day before yesterday. The heat of Cameroon struck me as soon as I stepped off the plane. The air didn’t just feel hot, it smelled hot. The official who stamped my passport did not say anything to me or even look at me. He just took my passport and forms and stamped them four or five times. After having my passport stamped, some men said something to me in French. One of them was gesturing at the plastic bag of broken chocolate chip cookies that I was holding. (more…)

Red Sox Socks

October 21, 2009


My first pair of socks. These were a gift for my brother-in-law last Christmas. I used the well-written instructions from “Silver’s Sock Class” online for making toe-up socks. These were made on US #4 bamboo double points, one of which I snapped while traveling with the socks. Lesson: Don’t attempt to try on socks when they are still on double pointed needles.  Fortunately socks can be knit on four needles as well as on five. More than half of the knitting happened at last year’s American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics meeting in Dallas, and the flights to and from the meeting. I’m just getting ready to attend this year’s meeting. I should start some new socks. Sweaters are too complicated to knit during a physics meeting.


Photo of the Week 3: Monarchs

October 18, 2009

2butterfliesClick photo to view a larger version. Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). focal length: 41.6mm (249.6mm in 35mm equivalence), shutter: 1/1,250 sec, aperture: f/3.5, distance: 1.5 m, location: Hanover, NH

Has anyone else noticed fewer monarchs flying around this fall than in previous years?

Birthday Bald Eagles

October 14, 2009

click gallery images to view larger versions

The day before I turned 29 we saw a pair of bald eagles (top photos), landing in a tree. Those pictures are a little pixely because the eagles were sitting across a bay, about a third of a mile from where we were watching whales. The next day we saw two eagles in flight (above), and one sitting in a tree at the other end of Campobello Island:


What a great way to begin a new year, seeing these huge, majestic birds.

share this post: add to :: Digg it :: Stumble It! :: :: post to facebook

Photo of the Week: Ribbons

October 13, 2009


Click photo to view larger. shutter 1/15, aperture: f/2.8, focal length: 6mm (36 mm in 35mm equivalence),

Location: Children’s Museum, Pittsburgh, PA. 7:51 PM on 3 October 2009.

My good friend Justin just got married in Pittsburgh last week, and the reception was held at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. The Italian-Renaissance-style museum building formerly served the city as a post office. These ribbons hang from a grid of wires below the building’s rotunda.

%d bloggers like this: