Posted tagged ‘Fontem’

Cameroon Journal: Back in Dschang

November 19, 2009

16 June 2006

Men Loading up the Diamond Bus to set out for Dschang

Men Loading up the Diamond Bus to set out for Dschang

At Lindsay’s again in Dschang. We left Fontem yesterday at 6:45 in the morning to take the early bus here. Although there were four remaining real seats available on the bus, whenever we picked up more travelers on the road, they piled into the row in which we were sitting, squeezing our buttocks into the numbingly small space. It later became apparent that the reason these new passengers did not venture into the rows of seats behind us was that none of them were traveling very far.

The Diamond bus, preparing to set out for Dschang.

The soundtrack for the journey was a cassette of nothing but Nigerian praise music. Catchy for a few seconds, and then annoyingly repetitive for eight songs, we listened to the tape two and a half times through during the two hour (40 mile) trip. (author’s note: I think I should give an example of the Nigerian praise music so that readers have some idea what it’s like):

(Now, maybe you’re thinking, hey, that music is catchy and not so bad. But imagine that it’s 8 o’clock in the morning; a rooster woke you up at 5, and you’re listening to the same 10 songs for the second time in a row. All that being said, much of the dancing in the video is pretty sweet.)

Of course, the music was played at full blast so that all the passengers could hear every bit of the infectious rhythms and tunes, sung in English, French, and Bangwa with some lyrics drawn from the psalms and gospels. Other lyrics thanked God for choosing to save the people of ‘this nation’, ‘this tribe’, and ‘this village.’ Beth slept for about two thirds of the ride in order to avoid carsickness. I, however, could not sleep, and was able to hear the praise music even through my AirFrance™ headphones.

Rickety bridges across the gutter in Dschang

In Dschang we went to the post office and the bank. Beth had a lot of mail, including a letter and a package from me! On the way from the bank to Lindsay’s house, we met Lindsay and Meghan (another PCV) on the street. They’d just been running and pagna (printed Cameroonian fabric) shopping and were headed to lunch. We accompanied them to a café housed in a small curtained booth. There were four tables, each of which had four stools. The proprietor told us our options: spaghetti and bean omellete, mashed avocado, or rice and beans. Lindsay and Meghan decided to partager (share) an omelette and the avocado. Beth got a bean/spaghetti omelet of her own, and ordered the rice and beans. The food arrived very quickly along with two generous bowls of chewy french bread slices. Dschang is in a francophone region, while Beth’s village of Fontem is in an anglophone region; the francophone region definitely has far superior bread, and baked goods of all kinds (perhaps not surprisingly).

Meghan and I asked for petit coca-colas, which were brought to us. The man told us to “arrêt” (hold the bottles) while he opened them. The opener was a piece of dark wood, carved into the shape of a crocodile. Two wood screws projected out of the bottom of the croc’s jaw to grip the bottle cap. Bottles here must be opened in the presence of the drinker due to a widespread Cameroonian fear of being poisoned. If you’ve gone to the restroom when your drink arrives, it will not be opened until you come back, even if three of your friends assure the waiter that it is fine to open the bottle in your absense and that you will be quite thirsty when you return. Beth told me about this because I wanted to step out to use the rest room. She explained that it would be better to wait because if i missed the drink opening, it might be quite some time before the waiter returned with his crocodile to unseal the bottle. Odilia would just do it with her teeth, but she was not with us. I think that this fear of being poisoned must come from watching too many Nigerian gangster movies on VCD

Following lunch, we picked up Meghan’s motorcycle helmet from an office in town. Then we got caught in the rain on the way to Lindsay’s. So we sat under an overhang and Beth and Meghan read their mail while we waited for it to stop downpouring. Meghan had received a care package, and shared some dried cranberries with everyone.

I read a book: “English grammar in Common Usage.” I learned about some differences between British and American English:

American: Last week we visited a woman in the hospital.

British: Last week we visited a woman in hospital.

American: You don’t need to wait for me to open the coca-cola.

British: You needn’t wait for me to open the coca-cola.

American: Yes, I have one brother.

British: Yes, I have got one brother.

Meghan is a agriculture volunteer. I asked her about terracing, crop rotation, and some other farming related topics. The Peace Corps in Cameroon is encouraging the planting of rows of trees along hillsides in order to develop natural terraces and to prevent erosion. Meghan told me that the villagers claim that their grandfathers used terracing, but they don’t say why they were no longer doing it.

After the rain we went to the market, and I bought a mancala board from a wood carver for 3000 CFA. Beth got a fabric painting of very tall, thin women carrying jugs of water on their heads. (That is the only way to carry a heavy object here; I don’t know why people don’t use that method in the states).

We looked at pagna. Beth got enough of 4 different prints to have an outfit made out of each one. I was tempted to get suits made out of several of them. But I spent the morning telling myself that the two pagna suits I already had were probably all the African clothing I would need for my last two weeks in Cameroon.

Beth negotiates a good price for some fruit on the street in Dschang.

After the pagna shopping, we went to a dimly-lit, airplane-hangar-shaped building full of curious dark wood carvings–boxes, chess sets, statues, last supper scenes, chests, drinking horns, bottle openers, and mancala sets. The work was all very nice, and four men working in the building occasionally offered explanatory or purchase-encouraging comments whenever we showed even a little interest in any of the pieces. Beth negotiated a price and bought an ornamental box. After we left she observed that when negotiating goes too smoothly, she is pretty sure she has payed too much for whatever she bought. I guess if buyer and seller both think they’re getting a good deal when they settle on a price, then it’s an ideal exchange.

We went to an internet café and checked email for 20 minutes until the power went out. We learned in an email that our friend Sarah is leaving in August for a year in China.

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.

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.


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