Posted tagged ‘travel’

Cabled Alpaca Socks for Mom

December 28, 2009

I’m trying to finish up a pair of socks for my Mom. I showed them to her in an unfinished state last week so that I’d have license to work on them in her presence while I was home, and maybe have some chance of finishing them before I left. But that was not to be. I’m knitting these in Berroco Ultra Alpaca Fine in the “red wood” colorway.

I really like working with this stuff, both in this fine gauge and in the “light” and regular versions. The fine gauge is 50% Wool, 20% super fine alpaca, and 30% Nylon (for sock durability), whereas the heavier blends are 50% alpaca, and 50% Peruvian wool. I find them all to keep a body quite warm for their weight.

For these socks, I’m using the pattern “Sugar Maple” by Melissa Morgan-Oakes from her book, 2-at-a-time Socks. This is my first experience with the two-socks-at-a-time method. (Both socks are knit simultaneously on one long circular needle.) I enjoy most aspects of the two at at time method, although I’ve had a few tangle incidents while knitting from both ends of the ball. Knitting in strange and cramped places has caused most of my tangles though. For example, I did several hours of work on the plane to and from my geophysics meeting in San Francisco last week:

While on the plane, a little boy next to me said, “Look mom, he’s yarning!” I thought only old people could do that!” She told him it was called knitting and that he watched too many cartoons. I thought it was cool that he found my age rather than my gender to the the unusual thing about my knitting. The needle I’m using is a Hiya-Hiya US#1. I have a nickel allergy that prevents me from using Addi turbos for more than a few minutes. But these Hiya-Hiyas are nickel-free, cost less than half as much, and seem just as smooth to me. So if you have a nickel allergy, (or just want to save money on circular needles) check them out. Indoor lighting does not show off the tiny cable twists very well:

but hopefully I’ll be able to get a better picture when these are finished.

Cameroon Journal: Going to Market; Going to Church

November 4, 2009

11 June 2006

Two days ago was market day, but Beth got sick. She felt ill all morning and was not up for going to the market. Market days here happen on the fourth and eighth days of the traditional eight day week. I’ve seen calendars here that have a dial with a pointer to indicate the day of the traditional week in addition to the day of the seven day western week.
Since Beth was not up for going, she showed me the denominations of coins and bills, and I set out for the market by myself. I had a list of supplies to get: powdered milk, eggs, pasta, tomatoes, and flour. We had used up the last of the flour in the house making grilled pizzas.


grilling a pizza at Beth's house, and wearing my bamilike garb

Yeast can only be purchased in half kilo vacuum packed bricks. So while we have yeast in the house, we need to do a bit of baking to use up the yeast before it goes bad. We are going to make donuts and english muffins (which I will feature in an upcoming post). There are recipes for both of those foods in the “Chop Finer,” which is a Cameroonian-Peace-Corps cookbook. The book has both American-style comfort foods and African foods in it.

In West African pidgin, “chop” means to eat. So to “chop finer” is to eat better. Some other pidgin phrases:
“Ah be done chop” means “I have already eaten.”
“Ah done chop plenty plenty” means “I have eaten enough.”
“oo sah you day” means “where are you?” and  “Ah day for here” means “I am here.”

*                  *                  *

We’re at the presbyterian church. It is the church closest to Beth’s house. Church here is interesting. They don’t sing as well at the presbyterian church as they do at mass, but the singing is still good. It is popular to dress as a group when going to church. (Actually matching clothes in general are popular here). So, a family might all have clothes made from the same matching print of fabric. The screen printed fabric that everyone wears here is called pagna (sounds like “panya”). Alternatively the church women’s group, or any church committee might all decide to wear their matching clothes on a particular sunday. It’s fun to see all these factions of dress in the congregation, showing pride for whatever group they are representing.

At the time when a collection plate would be passed around in an American protestant church service, things are done a little bit differently here. Everyone claps, and there is some chanting. I don’t know how they decide who is next, but they chant out individual names like so: “Brother Brian. Yah Yah Yo!” Then I jump up and run down the center aisle with some coins or bills or whatever, and I place it in a little basket. In exchange for doing this, I am given a “piece of cake.” In actuality this “piece of cake” has been either a hard boiled egg wrapped in paper, or a bag of popcorn with a fried fish head in it, depending which Sunday it is. However, it is still called cake.


The preacher

Another method of fund raising is to have an auction. Common auctionables appeared to be: whole live chickens, 35 gallon bags of corn on the cob, and quart bags full of incredibly hot pépé (scotch bonnet type peppers, which they add to basically everything they cook here).


door to the Presbyterian church

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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: 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.”

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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.


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…)

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