Crickets in the Shower – and Other Bits of Life

We’ve now been in Cameroon for three weeks.  We’ve had plenty of exciting, crazy, good, and different experiences so far.  Here are a few of them, in no particular order.

First, Cameroon is a bi-lingual country – both French and English.  Way more people speak French than English, however.  But many other languages are used as well.  Our friend Timothee Sodea, for example, speaks at least five – Gbaya (pronounced “Bye-ah”), Dii (pronounced “Dee”), Fulfulde, French, and English.  We’ve learned to say hello in Gbaya – “Mo saa ne” for the morning and “Mo gaa ne” for the afternoon.  It’s “Sannu” in Fulfulde, and “Bonjour/Bonsoir” in French.

White people are called “Nassara” here.  It is apparently a Fulfulde word, with origins in the word “Nazareth”.  It was first meant to distinguish those who believed in Jesus of Nazareth – that is, Christians – from others.  Today, it means “white person”.  And walking down the street, we hear it all the time.  It’s almost like it’s our name here.  Children will scream it when they see us walking – they’ll wave and smile and shout “Nassara, Nassara!”  In the market we’ll often here people say “Beaucoup de Nassara!” (translation – “many white people”).  There’s even a little bar called “Club de Nassara” in Meiganga, at which I’ve never seen a white person.  In fact, I think I know all the Nassara’s in town – five, I think.
Football – in American English, soccer – is the big sport here.  There is a field at the seminary, 75 meters from our house.  There’s one at the Place de l’Independance, about a half mile away.  There are a few other’s we’ve seen, and except in the heat of the day, it seems that at least a few people, if not whole teams, are out playing.
May 20 is “National Day” or “Day of National Unity Here” here.  With large percentages of Muslims and Christians, about 250 different tribal groups, dozens (or scores or hundreds, I don’t know) of languages, and a very spread-out country, it was amazing to see nearly the entire town of Meiganga and people from the surrounding area turn out in the heat of the day for the fete (party) at the Place de l’Independance.  The military paraded by, then for about and hour school groups did, too (I left after about an hour, as it was incredibly hot).  I hate to guess at the numbers of people – but to try and give an idea, I’d say there were a couple thousand children who marched, hundreds of teachers/adults, and a crowd of many thousands more.
 Crickets are everywhere after it rains.  They are in the sink, the shower, the living room, flying around and landing on my shoulder, my back, and trying to crawl up my legs.
Motorcycles (called “motos”) are everywhere here, and are used for taxis.  They can fit three or four or five people on a moto – or a driver and a huge bundle of wood – or a driver and a box that is four feet wide and four feet high.  They zip everywhere with their official taxi driver vest, no helmet, but sometimes with a beanie-type hat.  Their bikes are often wrapped in bubblewrap to keep the dirt, mud, and dust off of them.
Today we went to a church for baptisms – 28 college-aged students were baptized in the local river (read: stream with a deep spot in it).  It was awesome to experience.  Tomorrow we will go to the same church for worship, where another twenty-some will be baptized during the service.
Just a brief look into our Cameroonian life – more soon, I hope.

Don’t Poop in the Churchyard…and other things Americans take for granted…

I never thought that I was a high maintenance person. I thought that I had a pretty good grasp on what life was like in “less fortunate” areas of the world. I have been to other impoverished countries. I have seen the ways that people in third world countries live firsthand. I know, to a certain extent, what that is like…but since being in Africa, and particularly Cameroon, my eyes have been opened in a new way to things that we take for granted as Americans. Here are a few examples.

1) Water. Coming from Fond du Lac, WI, we had water. We had good water. Water to drink that was delicious! We would just turn on our faucet, stick a glass (or your face) under the stream of water, and knock it back by the glass. We would wash our vegetables in it and they would be ready to eat! No filter required! In Cameroon, not so much. Water in Meiganga is unreliable at best. I don’t think we have had water for 24 hours in a row yet since living there. That means that not only is there not water to drink or bathe in, there is not water to flush the toilet or wash your hands with. No water to rinse your vegetables with or wash your clothes in. Water is a precious resource that, as an American, and particularly a midwesterner, we take for granted all too easily. Especially clean water. We waste far too much of it far too frequently. So, I’m going to try to make a concerted effort to value my water when we return.

2) Good Sanitation. This ties in partially with the water shortage point. If there is not readily available water, there is nothing to wash the filth of our bodies (and in our bodies) away. Many places here do not have flush toilets. So, there are sometimes designated shacks/outhouses that people use. But even those can be a precious commodity, so people “drop trou” wherever they are to relieve themselves…up to and including the yard of the church or right next to the hospital. In fact, a friend of ours told us about a time when the pastor gave a 30 minute lesson about why we shouldn’t poop on the church lawn. But without toilets, when you gotta go, you gotta go. I am grateful for public toilets in the States. Even if they are not the best smelling or the cleanest, at least they are functional. When there are water problems at the schools in some of the townships we went to, the toilets overflow with human refuse, which is a huge sanitation issue and contributes largely to the spread of disease.

Along the same lines, in the States, we have garbage and recycling services that are kind enough to come to our doors every week and carry away our waste to a designated area away from civilization and dump it all there. Though I believe that we still throw away far more than we need to, it’s nice that it all goes to another place. Here, and many other places, that is not a reality. There may be a deep hole in your backyard where you can dump things, but not always. So, there is garbage thrown all over the ground, in the streets, and in the fronts of the shops. There may be someone who sweeps it up and puts it somewhere, but usually it just remains on the ground and gets stepped on and pushed around. It is not aesthetically pleasing and it is not sanitary. They are beginning to have recycling of paper and other things in certain areas, but that is by no means a given anywhere. It is where I’m from. Though I think that we don’t recycle enough in the States because it isn’t convenient enough. I will try to be more conscious of how wasteful I am and more grateful for the good sanitation services in the USA.

3) Electricity. I probably don’t need to say much about this here, since we’ve talked about it in other posts. But really, we waste so much electricity in the States because there is such a low likelihood of us running out. Renewable and sustainable energy is something that I am becoming more and more interested in as I have seen how solar energy in particular has made such a huge difference in Africa. In America, we walk into rooms and assume that the lights will work…or the fridge, or the oven, or the…and if not, they will in an hour or so. And we waste it.

6) Education. This is a really large topic in the States. We are always complaining about something that is going wrong with the education system and striving to make it better, but by the standards of most places in Africa (or much of the world, for that matter) we are so spoiled!!!! There are so many people that cannot find good education here or sometimes any schools past primary at all…for their whole lives. And we scoff at our education system that has curriculum and standards and even that it is a requirement. That’s amazing and we do not know how lucky we are to have that privilege.

5) The final one for today. Choices. This is the easiest one to take for granted, I think, because we have SO many choices that we don’t know even notice when some are missing. Some seasons things are more expensive, but you can almost always get almost anything you want or need from the store. If they are out of one brand, you get the other one. There is such a luxury in the number of choices that we have. I remember someone once telling me that the richness of a country can be determined by the number of choices there are. I really believe that to be true. We cannot even find most spices in the market in Meiganga-whereas in America, there is a wall of 57 spices that you can put on your rice. We are spoiled and most of us don’t even know it. Be grateful that you can have a choice of 90 cereals for breakfast. Most of the world isn’t that fortunate.

These are just a few of the many ways that Will and I have found that we have taken being Americans for granted. We are blessed beyond belief and forget that so easily. So, as you are eating your cereal today, drinking your coffee from Caribou, or flushing your toilet, I encourage you to take a moment and remember how lucky you are to have those simple things that in much of the rest of the world are merely luxuries that they dream about. As for me, I’m going to thank God that we are blessed with internet today and check my email.

Much love from Ngaoundere, Cameroon


I’m Going BANANAS!!!!

As a follow-up to my post about mangoes, I thought that I should probably also mention the lovely bananas as well. Bananas and plantains are two more staple foods here and I am not exaggerating when I say they are the best bananas I have ever eaten. One of the things that make Will and I a good team is our opinions of bananas. We are each others’ banana partner. I love under ripe to almost completely yellow bananas. I cannot stand yellow bananas and if they have spots on them, they literally make me gag. Will, on the other hand, cannot be bothered with any sort of green on his bananas. The yellower the better and the flavor is in the spots for him. So, I give him my yellow bananas and he eats them with pleasure….at least that’s the way it used to be.
Cameroonian bananas are a whole different story. Tough luck, Will! They are SO delicious! Give them to me slightly green, give them to me mostly brown. I don’t care. They are incredible! The bananas in Cameroon have about 5 billion times more flavor than American bananas. In fact, I would say that the plantains here actually taste more like American bananas.
Which brings me to my next point on the topic: Plantains. I’m not sure how many of you have eaten plantains, but I would say that most of the people in the States that have eaten plantains while in the USA haven’t enjoyed them. They are starchy and really rather dull. Not so here. Plantains are still more starchy than bananas here, but they have so much more flavor than plantains you find in North America. I eat them fried. I eat them boiled. I eat them stir-fried. I love them.
I think it all boils down to this: fresh and local food is always better than transported food. I have long thought this about the food in my gardens back home. Nothing beats a home-grown tomato. And nothing beats a home-grown banana or plantain either. Most of the produce we eat here was in the ground or on a tree in the past 24 hours. Since electricity is scarce here, if you pick it ripe, you have to eat it quickly before it goes bad.
The quality of the produce here has re-affirmed my desire ( and I think Will’s too) of growing as much of our own food as possible in the US and buying local and in season as much as we can. It really is so much better…but that’s a tirade for another day.
Much love!

A Mango a Day…

Hello friends and family! Will and I have internet for the next day or two, so we are probably going to be updating a lot! We’ve been writing a few posts over the past few weeks, but haven’t been able to post them. So, here they are!

Apples are abundant in Wisconsin most of the year. Actually, they are pretty abundant in the States as a whole. No matter the season, you can find apples in the store. Sure, at times the apples are better. And you can only get the “really good” apples in the late summer/autumn. But nonetheless, there are apples all the time.
I’m pretty sure in Cameroon it is mangoes-at least in this region of the country. And right now, it is mango season. In an area of the country where there is not a particularly wide variety of foods available, one of the staples is mango. You can buy them in the market. You can buy them for a dime from a child on the street. Or, if you are as fortunate as Will and I, you can get them from one of the four trees in your yard that are dropping them like they are hot.
Well, that last statement isn’t actually true….I don’t think many mangoes here get to the point where they are ripe enough to fall out of the trees. One of the activities that the children her engage in is extracting mangoes from trees. There are a few ways they do it.
1) One or two children (usually the ones who are a bit older) climb into the mango tree and throw them down to/at the smaller children below.
2) One of the children has a really long bamboo pole that she uses to knock the mangoes out of the tree. That thing is heavy and it looks like quite a bit of an ordeal to stand it up (it’s about 20 ft long). The children here are very strong.
3) The kids pick up  half-eaten mangoes or mango seeds or any other projectile off the ground and throw them at the mangoes in the trees, hoping to knock them down.
This happens every day-usually in the afternoon when they are returning from school. Needless to say,Will and I eat a lot of mangoes. This is in large part because our neighbor, Elisabeth, tells the kids that they must share their mango hoard with us. We are very appreciative and are currently eating at least 2 mangoes a day. This is such a privilege since both Will and I come from the land where you are lucky to find a mango for sale under $1.50/ea. So, while we are in Cameroon, we are going to take advantage of every mango opportunity that presents itself. Yum!
Much love from Meiganga, Cameroon!

Hello Cameroon!

Hello voracious readers!

As of 3:30pm today, Will and I are officially residing in Cameroon for the next 2 months. We will be in Yaounde until Tuesday.

In the 5.5 hours since we got here, we have already encountered one of the wonderful pleasures of living in a rainforest….the rain. It rained today and by rained, I mean terrentially downpoured for a good hour. It was awesome.

More later! I just thought I would give a quick update for those praying for us!

Much love,


..and by Cameroon, we meant Kenya.

Well, it wouldn’t be a trip with Katie involved without some sort of hangup. Anyone who has heard one of my travel stories (especially international travel) from anytime in the past 5 years knows that there is almost always something that goes awry. This time it included an all-expenses paid 27 hour vacation in the Republic of Kenya. This is our story.

For starters, one or both of our flights to Cameroon has changed every two weeks since we booked the tickets. 12 hours here, 20 minutes there. 2 days forward, 2.5 back. The final departure time that was given to us was 1:50am on 1 May with a 1 hour layover in Nairobi. This would have gotten us to Yaounde around 10am today. This was not to be.

Upon arriving at OR Tambo airport in Jo-burg at 11:30 last night and walking halfway across the country of South Africa with our bags to the departure counters, we went to a self-check-in machine and printed out our boarding passes for our two flights. 15 minutes later, after weighing our bags and redistributing our 2kgs of extra weight into our hand luggage, we proceeded to the check-in counter to hand in our bags.

At this counter, we were informed that the airline didn’t know what time our flight to Nairobi was going to leave, since the airplane had not shown up yet. Because of this, they told us that we were going to miss our connection to Yaounde. So, our options were to either come back again today or spend a day of layover in Nairobi and catch the next flight out on 2 May. Not having a way to get back to Urban Life, we chose the latter.

We negotiated our way through security in Jo-burg and found our gate, but still had no idea when our flight was going to be leaving. Now, I had been up since 2:15am already due to an overactive imagination and a severe case of hypochondria, so I was dragging my feet to begin with. Then, we got to the gate and  found out that our flight would not be leaving until after the original 2am departure time. At 1:30am they updated our departure time to 3am. So, at about 3:20, we departed for Nairobi.

But wait, there’s more!

Will and I had prepared to spend a day in Nairobi. We threw an extra pair of underwear in our hand luggage and sent an email to our connection in Yaounde informing her that we would be arriving a day later. We were pretty chillax about it all…or super tired. But, when we arrived in Nairobi, prepared to get our hotel voucher and have some downtime in our journey, we were told that we might be able to actually catch our original flight.

Wait, What?

What about our baggage that was checked through tomorrow? What about the arrangements for transportation that we had moved to the next day? Never mind that we have these questions, we don’t even know where to go to ask them. So, we muddle our way through the airport in Nairobi, eventually finding the transfer service counter who then tells us that we actually missed the flight to Yaounde anyway. Sigh.

So, we work our way through the terminal again asking our way around until we were directed to get in an airport taxi which took us to the Border control. We filed for a transit visa and got them. Then went to the hotel services counter, then to a bus, then to a hotel that was not our hotel, followed by a hotel that was our hotel.

Tired and hungry at 10am, Will and I arrived at a wonderfully swanky hotel, welcomed with warm smiles. We were fed and shown to our room where we are now taking a nap…well Will is. I’m writing to you all.

Now, we wait. Not a bad way to spend 24 hours! We could use the pool or the spa or eat or any number of other things. For now, we nap. We are hoping to leave Kenya at 11:20 tomorrow morning.

We will keep you updated as things unfold!

Much love!