Things are never what you expect!
This week we will try to describe for you some things which we have found interesting, different from the U.S., or just plain strange! We hope to make you laugh along the way!
As an example, last weekend we took a day trip to Douala with some friends to do some shopping. (Douala is about 75 km from Buea.) The friends who invited us to go with them are an interracial couple - he is from Cameroon (black), she is from South Africa (white), and they have a darling 3 year old daughter named Limunga. During the 2 hour trip to Douala on Saturday morning, we were stopped about 6 times - either by the regular police or by the taxi police- and Janice is always nervous about the whole thing every time as they are always ready to use the tire slasher to stop the car. The regular police were interested in OUR papers - hoping to fine us if we forgot our ID cards, the taxi police were interested to see whether the taxi driver had paid for a pass to travel outside Buea. Of course, the "taxi driver" was our friend who owned the taxi and usually hired a driver for business purposes. Each time we were stopped he patiently explained that we were a "family" traveling together to do some shopping. Each time the "police" examined the five of us, of various races --- who would not wonder how the "family" fit together! We offered no explanations and they eventually let us go! (As a side note, most taxis here are "share taxis" - meaning that you get on and off, sharing the ride with whoever else is going your way. It can get very crowded as 4 or 5 people get in with their shopping bags and livestock!)
Last weekend, we were also invited to a church service to celebrate Presbyterian Church Day. We had been given two beautiful Cameroon outfits by Dorothy and we wore them proudly! The 9 o'clock service started promptly at 9:45 and lasted, through much singing, dancing and praying, until after 2 p.m. (It did include some eating and entertainment!) We were feeling fairly exhausted until we heard from a student that she had attended a service that lasted until 4:30 p.m.! Although we are definitely overwhelmed by the length of church services here, we do enjoy watching all the action! The music is accompanied by various instruments, including trumpets, rattles, drums, etc. The singers move around the church swaying and keeping time with the rhythm. They repeat a song over and over - changing a word or a phrase - but keeping the central theme. We have been trying to learn the words - at least the ones in English!---but that would be another story. The hard part - at least for Tom - is the pace of the singing. It is so slow that he can only manage to sing one verse before he is exhausted! He has to use one breath for each word! The local social and cultural life definitely centers around church - whether it is Presbyterian, Catholic, or Baptist. That is the only place where we have seen dancing and singing which evoke Cameroonian themes!
We have included a picture this week of one of Tom's lunches. He had ordered beef and okra stew with fufu. The fufu looks like bread but is made of fermented cassava. It literally takes days to make it - washing the cassava, pounding it, letting it ferment (to reduce the cyanide it contains), shredding it, kneading it, forming it into rolls, and then cooking it. It was not one of Tom's favorite meals! (He found the fufu too fermented for his taste!) More to his liking was the "bush meat" which turned out to be porcupine on several occasions. (He is much more adventurous than Janice who is on a "natural diet" due to the spicy food!)
You can see pictures this week of food sold by the side of the road. Of course, it is always "on" the road, or at least on the ground! People here eat oranges differently than in the U.S. They peel the rind, leaving the inside part of the skin, and make a slice across one end. The seller spends an entire day cutting these oranges - it is quite an art! People then suck the juice through the cut end, squeezing the sides, and discard the pulp. It is homemade orange juice in its own container! When we first saw oranges for sale this way, we thought they were to be eaten and weren't interested because they had been peeled! Another type of food we have tried is corn - roasted on fires by the side of the road. It is fairly tasty but very tough! Tom has spent a lot of time chewing ears - it is not a quickly eaten food!
On campus, we have been delighted with our office assignment. We are sharing a conference room, since they had no other place to put us. The other mathematics and chemistry faculty members share offices - 4 or 5 assigned to a small room with 3 desks which take up most of the available space. People have to arrange times when they can be in the office! We are still not sure how communication works on campus. There are no faculty boxes and no central bulletin boards. People seem to learn about things by osmosis. Even the students! Classes sometimes meet and sometimes don't meet - labs are scheduled or not scheduled - and we seem to be the only people who don't know what is going on!
We have noticed that balloons in Cameroon always droop - never float. That's because there is no helium available - which Tom found out when he needed it for the lab. We have also discovered that there are no Styrofoam cups in Cameroon - and we would really like to use them for experiments with the CBL's. Even though there is a refinery in Limbe - 30 km away - the country does not use the byproduct for producing Styrofoam.
One of our pictures this week is a puzzle from Tom. Look at the coins and admire the dancing girls (?) (which are what Tom thought he was looking at when he first saw them). Then see if you can tell what they really are!
Enough for now - we will continue next week!