Thursday, September 24, 2009

Barka de Sala!

I joined the circle on the mud floor of the hut, peering at the bowl that was passed to me and straining in the dim light of the lantern to see what the bowl contained. It looked like a white blob resting in a mucus-like substance. I searched around the floor for my silverware, and heard a voice in the dark inform me, "You eat it with your hands." In disbelief, I looked again at my bowl, reached in, and pulled off a piece of the blob. I struggled to hold onto it as I tried to scoop up some of the sauce with it, but the now-slippery blob refused to stay in my hand! Karen explained, "Use your hand as a spoon and just scoop it all up at once." I boldly dunked my hand in the soup to attempt this method, but to no avail. I finally was able to shovel the meal into my mouth, but I was obviously the last one done. The other missionaries around the circle laughed at my awkward situation, exclaiming, "So much for a smooth cultural transition!" and "Her first real African meal, and it had to be corn fufu and okra soup, in the dark, with no silverware!"

Yes, so much for a smooth transition. But I thoroughly enjoyed the experience! I love trying new things, even if it means scooping up a snotty blob into my mouth for sustenance. Fortunately for my sense of adventure (but unfortunately to my tired and jet-lagged body), the whole weekend was full of new experiences! The Jacksons and I were spending the weekend in a village of Fulani people, to join with them in their celebration of Sala, the holiday at the end of Ramadan. (Because of our slow internet, I couldn't upload pictures of the weekend. But I did manage to get pics up in a facebook album, so you can see highlights of the weekend here:

The night after my "first real African meal," I woke up to the sunrise and the crowing of roosters, and entered a day that included many greetings of "Barka de Sala" ("Happy Sala"--one of the 3 phrases I now know in the Fulanis' language), hiking to the top of a hill with a spectacular view, visiting with the most hospitable and beautiful people I've ever met, and blowing bubbles with the most adorable kids I've ever seen!

The next day was preparation for the Sala celebration. The Fulani women slaved over their "one-burner stove" (a small campfire) in the cookhouse all day, preparing food for the dozens of Fulanis who were celebrating at their compound. I got to go visit other compounds and pass out Sala gifts for the kids--toothbrushes, toothpaste, and crayons. As I met all the different Fulani people, I was astounded at the joy they had in inviting strangers into their home, as well as the sparkling cleanliness of their mud huts! I am sure God truly enjoyed creating these people in all their beauty and hospitality. We even have one of their girls, Fadi, living with us in our house so she can go to school in Bamenda!

To my delight, the Sala festivities often last for more than one day! We feasted and celebrated for two whole days! The second day of the celebration, I got to see a freshly-slaughtered cow be butchered by expert hands, and throughout the day, I got to eat beef from that same cow!! We also all wore traditional Sala clothing, which was a lot of fun. The other thrilling parts of the day were watching a dancing horse show and dancing late into the night! The Fulani actually told me I was a good dancer! Ironically, their dancing consists of bouncing up and down in beat to the unvaried rhythm of the drums, so I didn't need many dancing skills to get that kind of compliment.

The following morning, exhausted from all the feasting and dancing from the night before, the Jacksons and I, along with the other three language workers who were there celebrating with us, wearily gulped down Cameroonian tea, leftover rice and beef, and headed home (for pictures of our home, go here:

Although there were several times during the weekend that I felt overwhelmed by all the people and the cultural experiences, I had a fantastic and extremely memorable time. Since Fadi is now living with us, we will get to visit the village numerous times throughout the next year, which I am really looking forward to doing.

This week, Karen helped me start teaching Katelyn and Lum. I've only had two days of teaching, but I'm really enjoying it so far, and I'm looking forward to bonding with the girls more and learning how to best teach the two of them.

My good health, even after entering a new place and being surrounded by dozens of people all weekend
A smooth and enjoyable transition
New relationships with the Fulani

Prayer Requests:
Continued health and smooth transition
Wisdom and continued excitement for teaching the girls
That God would bless Fadi and her family

Thank you so much for all your prayers and support. It has been so wonderful to see God provide in every way.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Egg Sandwiches, Djino Soda, and Marriage Proposals

Egg sandwiches, Djino soda, and marriage proposals: only a few of the new aspects of Cameroonian life I have encountered in the last two days. My flights went smoothly and pleasantly, albeit the lack of sleep. I got to sit next to a Russian owner of a fashion business (she was my age), a Texan pastor, a Belgium missionary going back to the Congo, and an American grad student coming to study malaria in Yaounde.

The Jacksons (along with the humidity of the rain forest) were waiting to greet me as I emerged from the last plane into the Yaounde airport. They drove me back to the Cameroon Training Center/Rainforest International School, and on the way back I was met with my first waves of sights, sounds, and smells of Cameroon. Yaounde is a very busy city, with people walking and working all over the edge of the road. There are no lanes on the road, and cars are veering around people and other cars constantly, with lots of horns honking and French phrases darting through the air. To add to the visual stimulation, all the booths, shops, and restaurants are right on the edge of the road, with beautifully lush vegetation filling in all the gaps. I couldn’t even talk, I was so focused on taking it all in. It was so different than anything I’ve ever experienced. The closest association I can think to make is that it is slightly similar to Mexico or downtown Los Angeles. The smells are also unique, but again, slightly similar to Mexico or LA. The mixture of burning trash, car exhaust, and body odors gives the air an interesting aroma of smoke and spices.

After picking up Karissa from school, we ate dinner with one of the missionary families, who were delightfully hospitable, and then I crashed back at the CTC apartment where we’re staying for a couple days.

Yesterday, I got to spend the day with Karen and her friend Wendy, who were wonderful about keeping me active and caffeinated, so as to help me recover from jet lag. They introduced me to more of the missionaries at CTC, as well as the school libraries, my first African skirt, yummy egg sandwiches (basically like an omelet in a roll), and my new favorite citric soda, Djino.

Today I got to go shopping in Yaounde with Karen. We went to an amazing warehouse of beautiful African materials, where I got some material to have dresses and skirts made. We also went to a grocery store and bakery, and everywhere we went, Karen would tell me that the French phrases I kept hearing yelled in our direction were marriage proposals or declarations of my whiteness or my beauty. It was a really interesting and exciting shopping trip.

After a quick rest to recover from the excursion, the Jacksons and I went out to a local restaurant, where we had roasted chicken, plantain chips (they tasted kind of like sweet potato fries), and lots of laughs. Tomorrow we leave early to go back to Bamenda, where we’ll prepare to go into the Fulani village for the celebration of the end of Ramadan. I can’t wait to see Kaitlyn, Lum, and the new addition to the family, Fadi.

I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of my experiences these first couple days in Cameroon. I really like it so far, but I am still in process of just taking everything in. I’ve posted a few pictures of the landscape outside our CTC apartment, and am looking forward to sharing more photos with you after we get to Bamenda.

Thank you so much for all of your prayers over these last couple days—I know they have made a difference.

Praises: I had a smooth traveling day, and all my luggage arrived safe and sound; it has already been wonderful to be living with the Jacksons; the people here have been very welcoming and hospitable; I haven’t been too exhausted to enjoy my first few days; and God has proven to be faithful to remind me that He is constant, and he has wonderful plans for me here.

Prayer Requests: A safe trip back to Bamenda, continued recovery from jet lag; wisdom next week as I prepare to teach Katelyn and Lum; and continual reminders of God’s presence and good plans, especially as it hits me that I won’t come back to the states for almost a full year (it hasn’t quite sunk in yet).