One of the greatest blessings of our time in Cameroon has been our relationship with Pastor SODEA Timothee. He is the real reason we ended up coming here in the first place. Two years ago Pastor SODEA spent three months in South Dakota-the same year that Will was doing his internship there. Right before he went back to Cameroon he gave an open invitation that if Will ever had a chance to come to Cameroon, he would be welcome. A year later, when Will received the Fellowship, the opportunity presented itself and we took advantage of it.
There are many things about living in Africa that are different than living in America, and it isn’t just the standard of living. It is a whole different mindset, a whole different rhythm to life, a whole different world. Though we noticed many differences in South Africa, we were able to put better language to the differences through our time and conversations with Pastor Timothee. He has shown us a completely different side of the “Africa mindset”.
One of the most frequent beginnings to Pastor SODEA’s sentences was, “here in Africa…” and then he would proceed to give us a glimpse of what it is REALLY like to have grown up here. For example, last week we traveled with him out to his “farm”. I put quotations around “farm” because it isn’t a farm like you would think of in the West. We drove to a grove of mango trees that was next to a dirt road. The mango trees were not in any sort of organized arrangement. We walked away from the mango trees through some brush into “the bush”. There was nothing overly remarkable about this stretch of land until there were suddenly 3 or 4 banana trees in the middle of a bunch of other trees. And we would walk and a little further we would get to a few plantain trees. We continued on a for a while through this “farm” (or forest) and came upon a herd of cattle wandering through the farm. They were cows from another local “farm”. There were a few young men that were herding the cows. Livestock and their owners mostly wander around everywhere here, which is normal, acceptable, and sometimes even encouraged (fertilizer).
At the deepest part of the woods, we came to a fenced in area. Well, by fenced in I mean that there were a few pieces of wire wrapped around some branches of trees that were stuck in the ground to enclose something that was about as close to a Western farm as you will see here. There were actual rows of yams. Pastor SODEA (PS) talked a bit about how he was planning on developing the land and what he was planning on planting here and there. There was a stream at the bottom of the valley where he will also have fish. We turned around to make our way back to the car.
On the way back, PS ventured down the side of the valley and started to pull up some trees by hand. It turns out that cassava root (yucca) looks like trees. He hacked off the growths at the root with his machete and put them into a bag he had brought. Cassava is the staple food in this area of Cameroon. They cut the roots off, peel them, cut them into pieces, dry the pieces in the sun on a sheet or flat ground, crush or grind it into a powder and store it….usually by hand. The most common way to prepare it (as far as I can tell) is that they add water to the powder/flour and cook it and stir it until it is the consistency of bread dough. Then they eat it with whatever else is on the menu. It is their bread here.
Anyway, back to the farm. There were some children on the other side of the valley that PS called over to help him carry the cassava back to the car and sent them on ahead to start getting mangoes. By getting mangoes, I mean he sent them to go climb up in the mango trees and shake the branches until the mangoes fall out. In a perfect world, the ripe ones fall out, the green ones stay in. As the children were mango-ing, Will, PS, and I (and the driver) walked down through some tall grass and came upon pineapple plants. For some reason, I always thought that pineapples grow in trees, but they don’t. They grow on the ground on plants that look like reeds (see the picture) and they have little pineapples that grow out of them. There were 4 or 5 plants that were sporadically placed around the area. I even got to take a ripe one! (It was the most delicious pineapple I’ve ever had).
After the pineapple discovery, we meandered back to the place the car was parked and went on a mango hunt. PS pointed out probably 10 different varieties of mango trees. Some are more prone to bugs. Some are fiberless. Some are better for cooking with. Some are easy to peel. Some are tart. Some are sweet. There is a mango for every occasion.
Here we come to the next way that the “African mindset” is different. I, like a true American, asked, “Tim, how many mango trees do you have?”
He laughed and said, “Here in Africa, we don’t know these things.” And it’s true. This is not a quantitative context. In Africa, you either have enough or you don’t. You have a lot or a little. They don’t keep statistics. They are not big on paperwork or records. We have met many people who don’t know how old they are or how old their kids are. You show up at about when you think you might and things start and end when they do. Events take as long as they take and time is relative. Numbers are just not as important here, and it works for them. And how like an American to ask a quantitative question.
Life is also more hospitable and communal here. Ownership of certain things is more relative that it is in the States. Like with mangoes…if you are hungry and there is a mango tree near you, whether you know whose tree it is or whose “yard” it is, you take a mango and eat it. You probably take a few for later too. Or, like many of the children here, you collect mangoes from someone else’s tree and sell them to unsuspecting consumers on the side of the road. That’s totally fine.
When harvest time at the “farm” comes, many of the people in the community gather at the farm and help with the harvest for the exchange of coffee and a meal. They get food and work for a day. Helping comes naturally here.
You always greet people on the road. Walking around towns and villages with PS will always take time because he knows everyone and has passing conversations with people all along the route. We would stop at houses for 5 minutes to greet them and pray on a whim just because we were in the neighborhood and continue on our way. Relationships are important here. They take time for each other. We don’t in the States, but I think it is something that I will try to take back.
But I wonder how it would play out…doing things like that is so unlike the American cultures that I grew up in. We are busy. We are strapped for time. We are becoming increasingly more individualistic and isolated. Will people think it’s weird if we just stopped in? Or would it be welcomed because we are all hungry for connection?
Here in Africa they live a different life, but they live a fulfilling life. People are their lives here. Life is short and it moves with a rhythm all its own. The days move with the rising and setting of the sun, just as they do in the rest of the world, but somehow the life here has a vibrancy lacking in the structured world of the West.
It has been wonderful to experience a bit of life here in Africa.
Much love from Meiganga, Cameroon,