Magical Mango Season JUNE 3

May has come and gone, and we are currently at the end of mango season. It is the best season in Cameroon, and there’s really no reason to argue against that claim (unless you’re allergic… then I somewhat understand). Here’s my guide to doing mango season correctly.

  1. Play with your food: Everyone tackles mangoes in their own way. You could peel off the skin (but honestly, who here has a peeler?), you can cut the mango into slices, or you can do it the village way by biting the top of the mango and using your teeth to peel the skin off. All the fibers get stuck in between practically all your teeth, but there are toothpicks available and you show the world how awesome you are. No matter what, eating a mango is always a fun time. However, there was one time I stopped everything I was doing to go home and use some floss. The situation was dire.
  2. Don’t be afraid to get sticky: This goes hand-in-hand with eating tactics, but there is no way to be graceful when handling a mango. Toddlers and grown adults act the same way. Once the skin is off the mango, there’s really nothing you can do except embrace the sweet, sticky fruit. Juice covers your entire hand and face, and it’s pretty much sacrilegious to not eat the entire fruit meaning it’s a two-hand endeavor. Everything stops when it comes to mango time.
  3. It’s all about teamwork: Mango trees are everywhere, and the best activity during the season is picking the mangoes. Because, honestly, why pay 5 or 10 cents for a mango at the market when you pick your own for free?? Mango trees are much bigger than apple trees in the US, and kids learn from an early age how to obtain their prize. The process involves one person throwing either a rotten mango or a medium-sized rock into the branches so that the ripe mangoes fall to the ground. Then a friend or two run after the fallen mangoes, collect them, and put them off to the side for safekeeping. They also enlist someone to protect their bounty. It truly is a group effort. Sometimes, people will try to collect mangoes from trees that aren’t theirs. That leads to loud fights, and the resolution of the trespassers giving up the precious goods. Another option of mango collection is climbing the tree, shaking the branches and having everyone else collect the fallen fruit. Aron showed off his tree-climbing skills multiple times this season.
  4. Everyone is happy: We deal with many struggles in Abong-Mbang. Whether it’s drunk people asking for beer, the power being out for days and weeks, the constant screaming of neighbors or the crying of kids, there is never a day when everything is perfect. Alas, when you hand someone a mango all their problems seem to disappear for a few glorious minutes. Electricity is out, you say?? Damn it. Electricity is out, but here’s a mango! WOOHOO! Mangoes make great prizes for activities at school; students pass their time collecting them and handing them out to friends and teachers; and everyone is thrilled that they can finally eat the fruit they’ve been anxiously watching grow at a slow but steady pace over the last five months.

Well, there are the top reasons that mango season is officially the best. It’s also technically supposed to be rainy season, meaning I can collect fresh clear water and I don’t have to worry about the awful dust clogging up my nose and always getting me dirty.

Finally, mangoes do not give malaria! Hooray! Only mosquitoes do. So once everyone is properly educated on the transmitting agents of malaria, no one’s taste buds have to suffer when someone declines a mango saying that they’ll fall violently ill if they eat one. Good thing we made a malaria awareness mural at the entrance to our district hospital that explained the illness and explicitly stated that mangoes are no danger. Mangoes for everyone.

So who here is going to argue that this season is simply not the best?

PS: Welcome readers, to 2015. I am very sorry this is my first post this year. Much more is coming within the coming week, including a highlight real of my year so far, a tutorial to housework in Cameroon, and dealing with failure at work. It should be a good time. I will also have some South Africa and Cameroon pictures up to entertain you. Enjoy.

Not so Shameless Plug DECEMBER 18

Hello all!!

This post is short and sweet.

This year and last year, Peace Corps Cameroon Volunteers have put together a beautiful calendar highlighting the scenery, culture, people, and quirks of this fascinating country. I know we are already on night three of hanukkah and that Christmas is coming up in a week, but go to this website and take a look at this calendar. All profits go directly to projects that volunteers are currently working on in country (for example, opening libraries, making malaria murals, planning mushroom cultivation trainings, etc). This is an incredible gift and I hope that all of you buy one or more copies… they are $10 when you get more than 1.

http://www.yearbox.com/calendarsforgood/peace-corps-cameroon-2015-calendar/

I just got home from training the new Youth Development Volunteers and their counterparts on Peer Education, HIV testing days and National Youth Day in Bamenda, North-West. Then I was in Nkongsamba, Littoral to celebrate an early hanukkah with all the Jews in my training group plus some honorary Jews and other friends, and finished up the trip in Bansoa in the West region for their biannual cultural festival. My friend Becky became a queen of her village and I got to witness the ceremony… even though we didn’t even know it was happening at the time!! I’m back home in Abong-Mbang now, but will soon be off to a small village with some friends for Christmas, then to Yaounde for a week of medical checkups and a much needed vacation to SOUTH AFRICA! Mom, see you in 23 days (not like I’m counting or anything).

Buy calendars!! Thanks!

I took this picture during a trip to the Dja reserve in August. It's not a part of this year's calendar, but who knows, maybe next year?

I took this picture during a trip to the Dja reserve in August. It’s not a part of this year’s calendar, but who knows, maybe next year?

My Recent Life in Pictures NOVEMBER 19

Hello loyal readers!! I have written a decent number of words about my experiences in Abong-Mbang, but I have failed to put up pictures (which many times give a more accurate portrayal of my life here). To celebrate my one-year anniversary as a Peace Corps Volunteer (I took the oath and swore-in November 20, 2013), I am now posting some highlight reel pictures.

Each picture was either taken in Abong-Mbang or in the vicinity and they represent many different aspects of my experience here. Travel pictures will come another time.

Family

My neighbors and adoptive family during La Fete du Mouton. Latifa (on the right) is putting makeup on Zena (in the blue). Zena sported the beautiful blue dress that her father Issa made (he is also my tailor) for the first time this day.

My neighbors and adoptive family during La Fete du Mouton. Latifa (on the right) is putting makeup on Zena (in the blue). Zena sported the beautiful blue dress that her father Issa made (he is also my tailor) for the first time this day.

Children

Me dancing with my friend Feli during her second birthday party. We managed to fit over 40 people into a room that would probably comfortably fit 10 max.

Me dancing with my friend Feli during her second birthday party. We managed to fit over 40 people into a room that would probably comfortably fit 10 max.

Setting/Scenery

The view from the main road in town looking over the mangrove trees that line the Nyong river in the background. The building is a vocational school for students who would otherwise not be in school.

The view from the main road in town looking over the mangrove trees that line the Nyong river in the background. The building is a vocational school for students who would otherwise not be in school.

Holidays

Teachers wearing the yellow festival pagne (fabric) marching in front of our Prefecture for International Teacher's Day. Each fete has a similar program, with the defile (parade) being the focal point of the celebration. Once the parade is over everyone goes out to bars for a drink (or 2 or 6) and then usually we gather with family and friends for a meal (and more drinks) all before heading to the cabarets and nightclubs to dance the night away.

Teachers wearing the yellow festival pagne (fabric) marching in front of our Prefecture for International Teacher’s Day. Each fete has a similar program, with the defile (parade) being the focal point of the celebration. Once the parade is over everyone goes out to bars for a drink (or 2 or 6) and then usually we gather with family and friends for a meal (and more drinks) all before heading to the cabarets and nightclubs to dance the night away.

Babies in Buckets

My best friend Gabriel, bathing in a bucket. This is from over the summer, so he's a bit bigger now...walking and making noise. I'm trying really hard to make "Matthew" one of his first words.

My best friend Gabriel, bathing in a bucket. This is from over the summer, so he’s a bit bigger now…walking and making noise. I’m trying really hard to make “Matthew” one of his first words.

My Work

Two of my peer educators, Mohamadou and Estelle, giving condom demonstrations during an HIV/AIDS testing and awareness day. We tested over 250 people in October, I then worked with another organization to test 350 people in November, and for International AIDS Day on December 1, I will be working with the peer educators and the district hospital to test another 200 people. All free!

Two of my peer educators, Mohamadou and Estelle, giving condom demonstrations during an HIV/AIDS testing and awareness day. We tested over 250 people in October, I then worked with another organization to test 350 people in November, and for International AIDS Day on December 1, I will be working with the peer educators and the district hospital to test another 200 people. All free!

Adventure and (the only) Americans

My postmate, Aron, and I on a barge over the Dja river. We were on our way to a very remote town to go to our friend's ceremony to become the chief of his village.

My postmate, Aron, and I on a barge over the Dja river. We were on our way to a very remote town to go to our friend’s ceremony to become the chief of his village.

How to Throw a Party: First Edition SEPTEMBER 27

I never envisioned myself sitting on top a couch mounted on a motorcycle riding through the center of Abong-Mbang on my one year anniversary in country… well, it happened! Read on to find out the situation.

September 13, 2014 marked my one-year anniversary in Cameroon. I was very introspective throughout the day and I thought a lot about everything I’ve done, all the people I’ve met, and what I have learned this past year. That morning my friend Vincent came over to help clean my house, but water had been out for a week so we couldn’t wash my clothes and the house was already pretty clean, so instead he slept for a bit and I hung out. I texted Aron saying that we needed to celebrate by playing cards and drinking beer and he told me to head over to his house. I got to his house and we sat around playing “Phase 10,” drinking Amstel beer (the beer that’s currently winning, meaning that you can win free beers and other prizes by looking under the bottle cap), and talking about the 1 year mark. We then threw around the idea of hosting a party in the evening for our friends in town to thank them for being so welcoming to us and also because it was something to do and a good reason to celebrate.

Over the course of the next few hours, we sent our friend Constantine, who was at Aron’s house helping him do laundry and said she would love to cook, to the market for food items. I went back to my house to get my couch to bring over to Aron’s place. I managed to get the thing out of the house all by myself, but got someone to carry it with me to the street. My annoying neighbor (see April post) was looking at me like I was a crazy person when I was flagging down a moto and saying it was not just for me but also for a couch. This is where me sitting on a couch on a moto comes into play… verdict: actually quite comfortable and not scary… I got to Aron’s house and Constantine was beginning food preparations and Aron, his neighbor kids and I were cutting pictures out of Time and National Geographic to put up on the walls of his living room for decoration.

The two of us thought of who we wanted to invite, mostly our coworkers and friends that have helped us with different projects, then practically all of Thibeau’s (Aron’s work counterpart) family. We thought of how many beers we would need and walked over to the closest bar to pick up three cassiers (cartons that hold twelve 66 centiliter beers) and brought them back to the house. We started making phone calls to tell everyone to come to the house at 7:30 because we were celebrating.

Right before 7:30, Constantine finished cooking with her younger sister Emme, and plates and silverware were collected from their older sister Eleanor. Aron was out in town trying to find a cheap bottle of wine (we didn’t want to serve box wine) but he couldn’t find anything, so he got back right before our invitees started showing up. I was very impressed that people started coming at 7:45, when it would not have been weird to think the first people would show up at 8:30. It was 8PM and practically everyone was there except for Eve, the director of Aron’s bank. I gave a short speech thanking everyone for a great year 1 in country and said that I’m looking forward to the next year and to more shared experiences. Thibeau said the prayer and included the line “They had a year with no difficulties.” Aron’s response was “Oh we had plenty of difficulties.” Then we brought out the meal of boiled/fried chicken, boiled/fried fish, tomato sauce, baton de manioc, and a giant plate of rice. I noted that we had no bush meat and especially no monkey. As everyone served themselves, Aron and I passed out the first round of beers and like the good hosts we were, we got our plates of food last and sat on the least comfortable seats. The one complaint we heard was that we had no piment spice, and someone said that usually at parties he won’t eat if there’s no piment.

We all ate and drank, and Aron and I continued to bring out new beers for people when they finished their bottles. This event took place in the middle of a 5 day blackout, so we used candles and lamps to light the room. We took a memory card that I had just bought and filled with all the hot Cameroonian, Nigerian and West African tunes and put it in Aron’s new MP3 player, so we got some good music going on. My favorite moment was when Belange, the three-year-old who is in my current Facebook profile picture, started dancing and each of us gave her ferrotage, which is a bit of money you hand a dancer when you think he or she is doing a good job. The catch is that you have to dance for a bit and place the money on the dancer’s forehead. The big conversation of the night was what everyone would be dancing and lip syncing to for the big fete that was happening in one week to celebrate the end of the year for our saving’s association, when the bigger issue was that absolutely no planning had been done and we were putting over $650 into it.

People started trickling out at 11 after 2, 3, or 4 beers each (we had a total of 40 beers for 16 people, and not everyone drank), but our friend Patou, who is a giant 6 foot 6, 300 pound guy, and is very loud, got up to give a speech and said that he was treating us to a round of drinks at the cabaret/ night club. Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of going to the cabaret and I managed to live without going to one in town for six months between February to August. However, I had been twice in the past three weeks and this would be my second Saturday in a row at the cabaret. In this situation I couldn’t say no. A small group of us: Patou, Thibeau, Stephane, Jules, Ada, Aron and I; walked the short distance from Aron’s house to St. Pierre nightclub and got front and center seats to watch the gyrating and hip thrusting dancers.

The drinks were warm (thanks blackout!!) and the choices were limited, but we all got our drinks, watched the dancers and some random wasted French guy who apparently is a professor and was in town for a funeral, and had a good time. Conversation was hard because the music was loud, but I enjoyed the large posters of Paul and Chantal Biya up on the walls and the very Not Safe For Work artwork next to the portraits. We left the cabaret at 1 AM and I was all ready to walk home, but my friends wouldn’t allow it and we waited around so I could grab a moto that would take me safely home.

The next day I didn’t leave Aron to do the cleanup all by himself, so after doing some house cleaning I went to his place and washed a ton of dishes, glasses, pots and pans, and then we rested for a bit before bringing my couch home, getting a quick dinner and going to sleep nice and early.

On the morning on the 13th, I had no idea what was in store for that night, but there is no way I could have had a better one-year anniversary. For our going-away party, I know to bring the piment.

Edition 2 is coming… keep that $650 fete in mind.

A Recent History of Development in Abong-Mbang AUGUST 23

                I have been in Cameroon for a little less than a year, and I have been at my post for the last 9 months. In that time, I have witnessed a decent amount of change. In case you didn’t know, I live in the East region of Cameroon which is the least developed region of the country. Both foreign and Cameroonian companies exploit the plentiful natural resources of the region, mining gold and cutting down the giant trees of the Congo River Basin. That being said, my town has grown exponentially since the road between Yaounde and Bertoua, the capital of the East, was paved around three years ago. So what does change in Abong-Mbang actually mean?

                Construction

 New houses and buildings have popped up all over town. Right next to the boutique where I get beans and beignets for breakfast, a three-story building is being constructed… and that’s a huge deal. Honestly, a handful of two-story buildings exist in town, so the sight of place with not just two floors but three floors completely FLOORS me. I think it’s a hardware store, because they have giant buckets and wheelbarrows for sale as they are finishing up the building. Oh yeah, nothing was happening there for the first few months, but finally in April they decided to recommence with work.

A new City Hall building is about to open up within the next few months. The place is huge and it will be the mayor’s office and the office of other city officials. When I first arrived to town, the place looked like a giant concrete shell. Now it’s a deep pink color and practically completed.

                Food

At the end of June, something happened that changed my life in Abong-Mbang. A bakery opened up three doors away from my house. Here’s what they have…

Butter! The closest butter to me used to be a 2 hour trip away. Now it’s 30 seconds away. All the other boutiques only sell margarine, so real butter is a huge deal.

Chocolate croissants! For 60 cents I can get a baked good that actually has a decent amount of chocolate in it, rather than a stale croissant with only half a bite of chocolate within… which is what I find practically everywhere else in Cameroon.

Salad! For a solid while they sold plated salad with carrots, cabbage, tomatoes and a quarter hard-boiled egg. For me, it was a huge deal. If I wasn’t in the mood to cook a bunch of vegetables, I was able to get a nice healthy plate of veggies for a dollar. Now, I haven’t seen the salad option this week and instead they are now serving crepes filled with jam, but unclear if that is a winning or losing situation.

Needless to say that George, the man who owns this operation, sees a lot of me. He’s a great guy who always has a giant smile on his face. He lived in England for a bit and he s from the West region of Cameroon. I do not know why he decided to open this place in Abong-Mbang, but I’m not complaining. It also doesn’t hurt that the four-year-old kids of the women who work there are super adorable. I hang out with them whenever possible.

              Moto Men

In all major cities and towns of Cameroon the main form of transportation are 150 cylinder motorcycles. Every Peace Corps Volunteer is issued a moto helmet when we get to country, and I do not think it is possible to serve in Cameroon without riding on motos. Abong-Mbang is decently spread out geographically and we have a number of young men who make their living by driving their motorcycles around town and giving rides to people.               

Now, helmets are worn by volunteers because we get sent home if Peace Corps sees us riding a moto without a helmet. However, helmets are not the norm for most Cameroonians. Last month I was walking to my office and passed by a large event at the ministry of transportation where delegates were handing out helmets and identification vests to the town’s moto drivers. I was so impressed to see this level of organization and adherence to safety. Nowadays I will much rather get on a moto with a driver who is wearing a vest and helmet than one with a driver who chose not to wear a helmet that was given to him for free by the town. In the end, my best rides are the ones I get for free!! 

                My Work

Beyond other development, my work has been keeping me busy and it contributes to development in town. Over the summer I worked on a grant application that was just approved, so in October my counterparts and I will be leading a week-long HIV/AIDS and Sexual Reproductive Health Peer Education training, so we’ll have 20 trained peer educators who will go around town during the rest of the year to lead workshops and formations with the youth in the community. The training will also end with a large HIV Testing Day… we’ll be testing 400 people! I’m ready to be super busy this month putting everything together.

I’m also planning new clubs in various high schools, I’m sponsoring a scholarship program for 7 female students at the Catholic school, where we’ll have monthly meetings and plan volunteer and civic engagement projects for the other students at the school. I’m also going to get some Malaria awareness and prevention work started up with PLAN Cameroon, a national branch of an international organization, and they have an office in town.

Work opportunities are going well, but I also give myself plenty of time to hang out with friends, go to events, and spend time with my neighbors. I finally got a nice table and shelf for my kitchen, so no need to prepare all my food on the floor. I’m also thinking of repainting some rooms in the house and building a mini garden in my enclosed front yard.

More posts are on their way: A profile of my baby friends; what happens in the Cameroonian jungle; thoughts approaching the 1 year mark; and quite a bit more. I’ll get some pictures up if internet allows. Stay tuned!

Fame APRIL 25

Hello loyal readers, it has been a while and I honestly have no good excuses for the delay. I got a new computer in mid-March, I’ve had some access to internet, and I’ve had time to write. Instead of writing blog posts I have been journaling a lot, so much so that I already filled up my first journal and have moved on to a second one. In any case, I hope you enjoy this post and I will be better about getting more up in a more timely fashion. If you bug me enough I will also start writing handwritten letters to send to the States. I have a stack of aerograms just begging to be written on.

If you head east on the road from Yaoundé you will find many things. First, you will cross the entire city from the bus depot and arrive at a giant gas station where you will fill up the tank for the journey. Soon after that, you get to Paradise… it is a toll station and gendarme stop and you will get bombarded with people trying to sell you pineapples. Sliced pineapples, whole pineapples, large pineapples, small pineapples can all be found in abundance in Paradise. Continue on the road and you arrive at Ayos, which is the last town in the Center region and is the gateway to the East. You will then cross over the Nyong river, which is beautifully situated in a wide, green marsh and the jungle looms ahead of you. After a little more than an hour, the road will bend and you will be surrounded by mangrove trees. You sense something different in the air. After having driven past countless tiny villages with unpronounceable names that consist only of mud homes and one small bar, you arrive at a bigger town and along the highway you see too many bars to count, trucks with giant logs on the back of them, and a brand new mural about HIV/AIDS that takes up a part of the wall that travelers like to pee on. You have finally made it to Abong-Mbang, and in that town I am a celebrity.

 
When you are famous, everyone knows you or knows of you. News about you travels like lightning, and your everyday activities are closely monitored. Neighbor children are like the paparazzi, although I am the one with the camera and they always want pictures to be taken of them, even if they look miserable in the photos because most Cameroonians refuse to smile in pictures… even if they love to smile in real life. When I walk down the street while carrying my moto helmet, even if I have no intention of riding a moto, every motorman wants me to ride with them. Most of them are fairly rude and scream “Hey, the white,” so I usually ignore them and continue walking. During my walks between home and the center of town, it is rare for me to get from point A to point B without running into a friend or acquaintance. Like Hollywood stars, sometimes I am the center of attention but other times I can fly under the radar and decide to have a day “off,” if I so desire.

 
I have the pleasure of living with the most annoying neighbor girl on the planet, and she seems to think that I have the most interesting life ever. I can’t get to my house without passing her house and my timing always works out that she always sees me. She used to bang on my door super early in the morning and she didn’t know my name for a long time, but at least she now knows my name and she doesn’t come to the door at all hours of the day. The perks of being a celebrity include the ability to tell her every time she follows me to my gate that I have work to do at the house or that I’m busy, when all I really want to do is finish an episode of “Breaking Bad.” When she and other kids show up to my door, they sometimes knock for a half hour and don’t grasp the fact that I won’t let them in (sometimes I do let them in and we color and have tea). I wish I could be a fly on the wall for the times I’m not at home and see how long they knock for before realizing that I’m not at the house.

 
My postmate is also quite popular in town. I get real time updates on his whereabouts from his three-year-old neighbors. Whenever I go to his house to pick something up or to drop something off knowing that he is not home, they will make it very clear that he is not home. When he is home, they are either inside his house or banging on the door begging to come in. In a similar vein, whenever I leave town for an extended period of time, almost everyone knows that I’m away but sometimes their facts can be a little off. For example, my first big trip was to Bamenda in the North West region for a conference after my first three months at post. I told people where I was going and that it was for a Peace Corps event, but a large contingency of people assumed that I was back in the States. I explained to them that I won’t be going back there for quite a long while.

 
People in town remember things I’ve said or things I’ve done from months back. They’ll remember a time that I made a faux pas in French back when I first arrived, and they probably won’t let me forget it until I leave Cameroon. Jokes and other funny moments are equally memorable. I was definitely the talk of the town on Youth Day when I marched with my coworkers at the end of the parade, but I was unable to march correctly. As my left foot was up so was my left hand and I couldn’t correct myself. Everyone was watching.

 
Yes, being a celebrity can be difficult work, but it is also a great experience. I have a wide network of friends who will look out for me and help me whenever I need help. Whenever I am out, I feel safe, because there is a high chance that I’ll know a decent number of people in that bar, club or restaurant. I have a neighbor family that welcomes me into their home for dinner every night, and I feel like I can go there whenever I want. I get to talk with them and I meet their friends and family. My close friend Thibeau has a large family, and whenever I show up to his house or the house of other family members, whoever is there is always thrilled to see me and I have so much fun playing with his young nieces and nephew, even though three of them together can equal big trouble.

 
I’m certainly no Samuel Eto’o or Paul Biya, but it’s nice to know that in Abong-Mbang, the biggest town between Yaoundé and Bertoua, I have a certain level of fame. However, this whole post is mostly me taking different people, situations and experiences, and making conclusions to flatter myself. The truth is that these different people, situations and experiences make me feel included in a town where I am one of a handful of foreigners (everyone other than me and my postmate are Catholic nuns or monks), I don’t think of myself as more important than anyone else, and I don’t think I’m seen that way. I’m simply a new character who does strange things on certain occasions that do not fit in with the clear-cut cultural norms.

I do still like telling myself that I’m a big deal.

Get me to the Church on (Cameroonian) Time JANUARY 31

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Sorry for the crazy long delay in blog posts. I get little internet in my town, and I have not travelled since Christmas. Furthermore, my computer completely broke a few weeks ago, so I was unable to type up posts in the comfort of my home then get them online when I had internet access. This week, I had the computer at my office to myself because my counterpart was travelling, so I was able to write something. I will be travelling to Bertoua tomorrow and I hope to get more posts up while I’m there. Enjoy!!!

 

Over the last month I’ve become a fairly regular attendant at one church in my town. Don’t worry, I have no intentions in converting, and for most of the events I have little idea of what is going on around me. I’ll tell you why with a short history lesson…

Around 100 years ago, American missionaries came to Cameroon to spread Christianity to all the local people. They arrived at the ports in the South region of the country and heard the local language, Bulu. These ignorant Americans assumed that all Cameroonians spoke that language, so they translated all the Christian songs, psalms, and hymns into Bulu and went across the country with their newly translated book. Now, remember that Cameroon is called Africa in Miniature, not just because of all the geographic features that can be found in the country, but also because there are hundreds of ethnic groups that make up the country’s population and well over 200 languages are spoken here.

Enter Abong-Mbang today: I sit in church, listening to an entire congregation of people from the East region, who speak French and Maka, singing some tunes I recognize (The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Joy to the World, Silent Night, for starters) but mainly tunes I do not recognize in a language they do not understand. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Furthermore, all songs have very choreographed dance moves to accompany them, a designated whistleblower, and multiple loud drums carved out of tree trunks. Church is quite the cultural experience.

My first church service was the last weekend of 2013, and two days later, on New Year’s Eve, my best friend in town had a younger sister pass away. That week, I was at a service in town Thursday night and Friday morning, and then we went out to his family’s village (there will be more on that in another post) and I the services continued Friday night and Saturday morning for the burial. Not knowing anything about church music just a few days earlier, I was quietly singing my favorite new tune during the van ride home, and some of the choir members caught me in the act.

It’s about a month after all these events have happened, and since then I observed the church youth conference that happens one week each trimester, and returned to services another Sunday. People around town will ask me where I was if I wasn’t at some event; however they are all aware that I am in fact Jewish. One day I was supposed to go to the choral rehearsal, but I made the rookie mistake of thinking that 17H30 was 7:30 PM… it’s actually 5:30, and I’ve lived in places that use military time for a while now.

I’ve learned a lot about the importance of church for so many people in my community. Unlike in school, the youth actually have a chance to have their voices heard, and they can talk about important issues that might not be discussed with their families. Last week, all the youth came together at my friend’s house for an assistance, where they pooled together what little money they had to help a family in need. It has been pretty incredible to watch.

If you think I’m getting to caught up with one specific community in town, there’s no need to worry. I live in the Muslim neighborhood, meaning I hear the call to prayer 5 times a day from the two mosques right next to my house, including the one at 5AM. I have a solid crew of Muslim neighbor kids who come to my house. Sometimes we draw, other times we clean, and I’ll usually make tea. I always take my tea black, but almost all Cameroonians I know will pour mounds of sugar into their cups… and my house is currently out of sugar. A few nights each week, I will go to my neighbors’ house for dinner. We don’t eat pork and we don’t eat bush meat, so we have a healthy relationship going on. Oh yeah, and the dad is my tailor and the whole family is awesome. They help me with my Fulfulde skills, and they treat me like part of the family.

Currently, my favorite song from the Bulu book is number 110. I wonder how many I will know by the time I leave Cameroon.