Megan and Alex arrived in Cameroon's capital at the same time in September 2010.
Viewing entries tagged
This is one of my favorite Cameroonian worship songs. We sing it in French, so I've provided a translation. If you'd like to hear it, send me an e-mail and I can attach a recording of myself singing it. Dieu d'amour, Tu es Papa. Le Tout-Puissant est Papa. Le créateur est mon Père. Dieu d'amour, Tu es Papa. Mon Dieu je t'aime. (3x) Tu es mon Papa. God of love, You are Daddy. The Almighty is Daddy. The creator is my Father. God of love, You are Daddy. My God I love you (3x) You are my Daddy.
Last Saturday, August 20th, marked the one-year anniversary of my arrival in Cameroon. Feeling both blessed and accomplished, I decided to throw a small party for myself on Wednesday after school. I invited a motley assortment of friends: my boss, neighbor, and close friend Lois; the Korean PE teacher who recently moved to my area of town; the new Bible teacher at RFIS; and a good friend from Cameroon who coaches basketball at RFIS. Only after making these plans did I realize that I was the only U.S. citizen who would be there; my two Canadian colleagues formed the majority.
I look forward to coming home from school on Wednesdays to a kitchen full of fresh fruits and vegetables, purchased at the market and cleaned by my very efficient househelp, Doris. This week, I added chicken to my usual items including papayas, carrots, onions, and tomatoes. Cameroonians often serve chicken at celebrations, as it's more expensive than fish or beef, so I decided that I would follow that cultural norm. However, this was the first time I had asked Doris to buy a whole chicken in the market, and I wasn't sure what to expect. I've been to the main market a few times and smiled at the vendors gripping docile chickens by their feet. My stomach is strong, but I still didn't want to deal with feathers, so I wrote "1 whole chicken, cleaned" on my list and hoped for the best.
When I came home from school, the chicken was in Ziploc bag in my freezer because I still haven't explained the difference between the fridge and the freezer to Doris. Immediately, I shook my head-it still had its feet. "Okay," I calmed myself, "There's a lot of meat on the feet. Maybe I can boil them for broth." I pulled the chicken out, hoping it wasn't too solid yet, and started thawing it in the sink while I chopped and liquefied chiles for its sauce.
With the sauce ready, I steeled myself to hack the chicken into chunks that would fit into my frying pan. While maneuvering the bird so that I could chop off the feet, I flipped it over and jumped back, yelling to no one in particular, "It still has a head!" Only slightly disturbed, I continued my dismemberment, discovering along the way that the organs had been left in along with the head and the feet. I slipped them into a plastic bag with the head and feet and left Doris a note that she could take them home if she wanted them. It wouldn't be that hard to learn how to prepare and eat them, but sometimes I don't have the energy for such undertakings.
With the most unpleasant task over, I browned and simmered the bird, boiled rice with herbs, sliced an avocado and set out the table for my friends. Bursting with Mexican flavor, the chicken was a hit—one friend who doesn't even usually like chicken complimented me on it. It looks like this little adventure may need to be repeated.
This morning at a women's breakfast, we sang my favorite French worship song. It was the first time I had seen the words written down, which meant it was also the first time that I understood the first half. I wanted to share it with you, especially as we approach the celebration of Jesus' resurrection and our life and joy in him.
Je suis dans la joie
Je chanterai de tout cœur le merveilles de mon papa Yahweh
Il m’a ôté des ténèbres, il m’a délivré de tout pèche.
Mon Papa est fidèle ; il ne m’abandonne jamais.
Je n’ai plus rien à craindre car Yahweh m’a libéré.
Je suis dans la joie, une joie immense.
Je suis dans l’émotion car Yahweh m’a libéré.
I am in the joy
I will sing with all my heart the wonders of my dad Yahweh
He has removed me from darkness, he has delivered me from all sin.
I no longer have anything to fear because Yahweh has liberated me.
I am in the joy, an immense joy,
I am so excited because Yahweh has liberated me.
This week was Special Emphasis Week at the school, with a focus on Self Awareness. Within this theme, we shared a lot from Psalm 139, praying that the students would understand that they are created by God and very much beloved by him. On Thursday, the female teachers spoke to the girls about our worth in Christ, especially regarding our beauty. We read them Psalm 139: 14 "I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are your works, and that my soul knows very well."
In the afternoon, I met with my small group, which is composed of four Cameroonian students, one Korean, and one American. As we talked about the message in the morning, two of the Cameroonians mentioned that the verse reminded them of a song. I asked if they would sing it for me, and was almost in tears by the end at the beautiful way it summarized everything we had been talking about this week. I wish I could sing it for you, but the lyrics are as follows:
I am joyfully made.
I am wonderfully made.
I resemble God.
I belong to him.
That is why the devil trembles
Whenever he hears me say
I am God's own
and the apple of his eye.
This evening I returned from what felt like a journey to everywhere in Cameroon. Last Thursday I left right after school to travel to Bamenda, a cool city in Cameroon's northwest, with a family I know from the school. The day after that, we finished the journey to Mamfe, a steamy city in Cameroon's southwest. We stayed in Mamfe for two days before another teacher and I traveled back through Bamenda and up to a village, Bambalang, in the Ndop plain. We enjoyed the village for a day before returning to Bamenda for some relaxation and fellowship in the cooler mountain weather. This morning we hit up the Bamenda food market for some fresh produce, including broccoli, cauliflower, and peas, which are hard to find in the capital, and then returned to Yaounde.
Confused yet? Not to worry. I'll be writing more about what I was doing and posting pictures very soon. Suffice it to say that I thank God that we arrived back safely and that we were blessed in so many ways along the way.
My repertoire of Cameroonian dishes is slowly expanding, most recently to zocalo, which is also called pile. I ate it for the first time in September, and just yesterday got around to trying it for myself. This simple, filling dish consists of mashed ripe plantain with beans. When I mentioned to some Cameroonian friends that I would be making it, they all wanted to come try some! The pot I made fed three children, me, the woman who sold me the palm oil to make it, and had some left for a couple other friends that were delighted to get a little. One commented that I'd done a good job, but could mash it a little more the next time—there were still a few chunks of plantain in it this time.
Some of the ingredients might be hard to find in the U.S. Jennie, one of the girls who tried some, told me that her mom has made it with potatoes. I could see that working, but I think yellow potatoes would be best. I used dried beans that I had already cooked, but canned beans should work just as well if you're in a hurry. Unrefined palm oil gives the dish a lovely orange color (unsurprisingly, it's high in Vitamin A, but also in cholesterol). I doubt you can find it, so some vegetable or olive oil and a bit of achiote (annato) or paprika might do the trick.
8-10 very ripe plantains
2 cups cooked red beans
1-2 onions, chopped roughly
3 tablespoons unrefined palm oil
salt, to taste
Peel the plantains and boil them until very soft. Meanwhile, cook the onion until translucent. When the plantains are easy to pierce with a fork, drain the water. Add the beans, onions, palm oil, and salt and use a potato masher to mash the plantains.
I served this with green beans and carrots that I simply diced and simmered a bit--the combination is fairly Cameroonian.
In October, I had the privilege to visit the Kom Multilingual Education Project, where I was amazed at the level of engagement from students and teachers. A few scenes from the school are featured in a video that I posted several weeks ago; please let me know if you are interested in the link to it. This short story is by Godfrey Kain (center right), a Cameroonian who designed many of the materials that the school is using to teach students to read in Kom and then in English.
I had started a cooking blog, then realized that my ISP is blocking it, then also realized that I've been remiss in posting on my regular blog, so I decided to combine the two a bit. I'll try to share a bit of my daily life through the food that I've been cooking and the people that I share it with. Enjoy!
I've been experimenting with various starches here, trying to learn to cook with ingredients from the market. After cooking with plantain, I fell in love and began mashing, frying, and boiling them in everything I could think of. This week I finally decided it was time to move on, so I asked my house help, Camilla, to get some manioc from the market. I've seen and cooked with manioc before; it comes from the Andes and is also called yucca. Here, the root is also known as cassava, and as a Cameroonian told me, it is all starch.
I asked for $1 worth of manioc from the market, and wasn't quite expecting what I found when I came home from school. Camilla had returned with what must have been at least five pounds of large brown roots. My roommate asked me if I knew how to prepare the manioc properly, mentioning that it had cyanide on it. ¡Whoa! I didn't realize that could be a problem. Previously, I had cooked with waxed manioc, so perhaps it had already been processed somehow. Concerned, I left a note for Camilla asking if she could explain how to cook this delicious root. What follows is her response:
How to cook manioc: you first take off the skin, then you grate the backs of the manioc a little with a knife before you boil it. (She left me an example in a bowl). You don't have to leave manioc for many days because they can go bad. When you buy it, cook the very day or the next day. Well Megan, I hope when you read this you will understand.
I did understand and followed her instructions, and my bicep is a bit sore from cutting off the tough outer peel—Cameroonian women must be very strong! After peeling, I cut it into big chunks, washed them in a bowl of water, and then boiled them in a large pot. Once they were falling apart, I drained them and let them cool. I tried to pull out the tough fibers in the center (although I missed a couple and had to pick them out as I ate). The next day (for no particular reason other than that was when I had time) I added a cup of water to the pot, brought it to a simmer and used a potato masher to turn it into a piecy paste. When it was stirrable, I threw it 1/2 cup milk powder, dissolved in two minced cloves of garlic and 1/2 of water (those of you in the States might want to try a combination of butter and cream—really, any fattening dairy product should work). I let it simmer until the milk seemed to be absorbed and served it warm. Although the dish isn't typical of Cameroon, my Cameroonian friends seemed to enjoy eating this Ecuadorian side dish, and I'm excited to have lots of leftovers! This is a great dish for anytime when you want to make sure that no one will leave hungry—it's cheap, but very heavy.
In shorter recipe form:
2-3 manioc roots
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup whole milk
Peel the manioc, getting rid of all of the purplish exterior pieces, then cut it in chunks. Wash the chunks in water. Add them to a pot and bring to a boil. Let simmer until the manioc is tender and falling apart. Drain and let cool. (One traditional Cameroonian dish would stop at this step and serve the root still warm.)
When cold enough to handle, pull the chunks apart into large pieces, removing any tough fibers that you find. Return to the pot and place over low heat. If the chunks are still fairly warm and soft, add the garlic and milk directly. Mash until it forms a soft paste. Serve warm.
On my 22nd day in Cameroon, I happened to open a file with “Most helpful health tips for newcomers to Cameroon.” I had heard most of them before—the branch doesn’t wait three weeks before giving us this information, for obvious reasons, but the pdf concluded with a short poem that I thought would help my readers understand one element of living in Africa.
Wash your hands well
Filter your drinking water
Wash your raw veggies with Javel,
Wash your dishes with hot water
If you’re invited, or out somewhere
The raw veggies aren’t Javeled
The water isn’t filtered
You forgot your Purell
And the dishes are merely rinsed in cold water
Pray and thank God for your food (as you always do)
Eat or drink with appetite and thanksgiving
And trust God with your health
For there are worse things than the filth that may go into your stomach and pass out of your body
And an attitude of rejection which comes from the heart
Can do more harm to your relationships than the food to your body
Relationships are paramount in Africa and Latin America, in a way that they are not in my middle-class U.S. background. I spent a couple weeks in Mexico last summer, and very happily ate everything that was offered to me, as I was usually hungry and almost all of it was delicious. A thousand thanks go to my parents, who trained me from a young age to eat everything that was set before me! One evening, a Mexican colleague turned to me and said in Spanish “I like Megan. She is a very open person.” Pleased, but a little puzzled, since she had known me for less than a week, I asked her why she thought so. She replied that I ate everything that was given to me.
I have had a similar experience here. After a couple weeks of eating Cameroonian lunches at the school (we have the option to get Cameroonian food, cafeteria food, or bring food from home), a Cameroonian colleague commented “I can tell you are just loving our Cameroonian food!” Another colleague commented later that he was confident that I would eventually try carrying things on my head, a skill many Cameroonians learn from the time they are small. When I asked why he thought so, he said something about how I seemed open to the culture and trying new things. As the only examples of that are my poor attempts at using French in greetings and eating the food, I think it may be the simple act of eating that shows a willingness to experience and join the culture here.
Even in college, I had started to realize the importance of food in relationships. Food is community, and in a sense, food is love. People usually eat with their closest social network, and offering a cookie or some fruit can be a way to solidify a friendship. When we share our food with others, we show love and hospitality to them. By accepting others’ food, we show that we accept their love. In this way, what we eat reflects our obedience to the second greatest commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
I have not yet been offered food of questionable cleanliness, or had occasion to eat with unwashed hands. I pray that when I do, I remember that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body, but the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ Please pray with me that our eating and drinking may be acceptable to God and our brothers and sisters around the world.
This week, I've been back home, mulling over the cultural and educational training that I participated in for the past couple weeks. While we had plenty of time listening to lectures about the structure of Wycliffe and the importance of children's education to the task of Bible translation, we also played plenty of games.
A typical Wycliffe game goes something like this: break people into groups. Give each set of people a game with simple rules. Let them get comfortable with those rules. Then mix the groups, and ¡SURPRISE—nobody has the same rules! Now what? What results is usually a complex mental and emotional process of trying to determine the new rules, figure out how to win, who is "right," and how to avoid offending too many people while playing. Other variations of Wycliffe games include using simplified languages and peeling mangoes without knives. While we played, I noticed that I enjoyed figuring out the new rules, but by the end I was tired and ready to stop. Except in the case of the mango—I thoroughly enjoyed eating it, even if my hands were covered in juice before I finished!
Some of you can already see what these games illustrate. We all grow up in a culture and learn its rules. We learn languages and ways of doing things (like peeling mangoes with knives—which was surprisingly ineffective compared to peeling it with my hands!) Many of us play the whole game in our own culture, using the comfortable rules that we've known all along. In cases of cross cultural ministry, the worker leaves his or her first group and has to learn the new rules. Sometimes, these new rules are more Biblical than our own. Sometimes, they violate the Bible's principles, and other times, they are simply different. But in almost every case, the accumulation of little differences can be very stressful—food, shopping, greeting, language, climate, and underlying conceptions of the world may all change after a short plane trip across the ocean.
As I reflected on my impending transition to the culture of Cameroon and the specific culture of a new school, I confess that I started focusing too much on the stress and not enough on the blessings. I almost stopped looking forward to going there. I started praying "God, please make me want to go to Cameroon. Make me happy to be going."
A woman from Bethany Baptist Church called me tonight to tell me how excited she was for me and how much she had enjoyed her six months in Niger, working at a missionary clinic. She spoke of the beautiful, friendly people there, the way that the clinic improved their lives, and how God had prepared her ahead of time for what she did. She reminded me that God is preparing the people that I will work with and those I will minister to, and that I will be meeting a need at the school. As I spoke with her, I felt my spirits lifting. I know that the transition will be tiring, and I may end up with juice all over my hands, but it will also be a sweet, delicious journey.