Friday, April 1, 2011

Hippos, Henna, Macaroni and Cheese

Like I said before, I arrived in Ngaoundéré last week Sunday after an overnight train ride and I can tell I’m in a very different part of the country because that overwhelming sense of unfamiliarity has returned. That actually makes me proud because it proves that I have really adapted to life in Yaoundé. The weather is not as hot as I had heard, but it’s definitely not the cool spring weather I am used to. The climate is much drier and the landscape is a mixture of dry savannah grassland and desert. When a big gust of wind comes sometimes you have to hide your face from the blowing dust. But at the same time, there are also large fields with lush green crops.

A rural village that we passed on the train. This is the first time I've seen a "sterotypical" hut.

Although Muslims are not actually the majority here, Islam has so strongly impacted the culture that it feels predominantly Muslim. There are mosques on every street and you can hear the prayers being broadcast throughout the day. I often watch my homestay mom set up her “tapis” in the direction of Mecca for one of the five daily prayers.

Men praying outside the Grand Mosque

Besides our differing religions, I fit very naturally into this family. I live with my mom and my sister who is fourteen. I guess my dad works for a transportation company so he’s in a neighboring country right now and I probably won’t meet him. So far my biggest problem (which isn’t really even a problem) is that when I offer to help with household chores they just smile and tell me things are under control.  I’ll keep offering, but I also appreciate the sweet gesture of hospitality.

A big part of living with homestay families is trying to exchange cultural elements. Henna is very popular here and I have basically been drooling over my sister’s since I got here. This weekend she took me to a family friend who did my hands and feet; the woman was absolutely an artist.

Beautiful Henna!

In order to return the cultural education, I pulled out my box of macaroni and cheese that I brought from home. Families love it when you cook for them, but it’s hard because so many basic ingredients are impossible to find here. Thanks to Kraft things went over pretty well. 

Kraft Blue Box
In another cultural exposure this week, my group visited a traditional doctor. He showed us several of the plants he uses to create remedies and talked to us about the process of diagnosing and treating patients. I was actually really surprised at the official nature of everything; even traditional doctors have paperwork! One of the services available from this man is basically fortune telling. After placing my handprint in the sand, I was told I would return someday to Africa, not as a student to learn, but as a “higher person” to create change and aid the people here. I don’t put much weight on what he said, but if it works out I wouldn’t be upset.

Perhaps the most exciting part of this past week was my pseudo-safari. We’re actually pretty far away from most traditional African animals, but there is a private park within a couple hours where tourists can visit and occasionally see some animals. We were lucky enough to see a giraffe (although he was really far away), some deer-antelope-gazelle type animals, a beautifully colorful bird, and a lake full of hippos. It was a long drive on an extremely bumpy road in a van with no shocks, but sitting on the ground within thirty feet of an entire hippo family made it all worth it.

A deerlike-gazelle-antelope animal


There's a giraffe behind the deerlike-gazelle-antelope thing if you can see him.

More hippos!!

Just to keep you updated, I leave Ngaoundéré on Saturday because independent study month begins next week! I can hardly believe how fast the semester is passing and can’t wait to really dig into my project. I’m researching primary level math education in Cameroon and will spend my time observing/teaching in two schools. Me+Math+Children+Teaching = Very Happy Camper.

Oh, and there's a rumor going around about one other exciting thing that may or may not have happened in Ngaoundéré. But I refuse to post twice in one day so you'll have to wait until tomorrow...



  1. WOW! What an exciting post to read. Love your blog and all that you are about there. Truly a time to savor each experience! Pastor Bob

  2. Cool pictures! I'm glad the family stay is going well. Not sure macaroni and cheese is the best representation of our culture . . . but it certainly is real! "Deerlike-gazelle-antelope thing" -- that must be the French to English translation of the latin name? Enjoy the school time! And remember, "carry a big stick"--to deal with those rumors ;-)
    Lv Dad
    In case the news hasn't reached Cameroon, your mother is royalty--she's now the bracket "queen" having won the family March Madness pool (she was the only one to pick any of the final four teams!) She will expect a curtsey when you get home.

  3. Dear Rachel,
    You and your sorry, I can't resist correcting... :) I'm pretty sure your deerlike-gazelle-antelope 'thing' is correctly identified as an impala. (Doesn't it look like my car?? haha) Specifically, the common impala Aepyceros melampus melampus (no, not a typo) if I'm identifying it correctly from your picture :) Just thought you'd DEFINITELY want to know all that ;)