Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Alternative Christmas celebrations!

After spending some time in Maroua filling up on grilled fish and having a break from the corn fufu, Emma and I spent the Christmas period back in the village and I'm so glad we did. It was really interesting to see how Christmas was celebrated in a small village in Cameroon! The fact that it was baking hot and there wasn't a Christmas decoration in sight made it feel a bit less like the Christmas I am used to at home but having said that, it was such a refreshing change. It puts into perpective all that curfuffel that is Christmas in the UK; the pressure of remembering everyone on you xmas card list, the mad frantic rush to make sure you have bought everyone presents and the return from Tescoes with the trolley laden down with so much more food than you can possibly think of stuffing down you face during Christmas day. Here in Moutourwa there was not a present in sight, instead the kids being so excited by the possibility of being given a sweet to eat or having rice for dinner instead of fufu corn.

Celebrations for Christmas here start on the 24th like in France and all you could hear when you walked around the village were children singing and dancing in the Church (they had been having nightly practices for the previous four weeks!) Emma and I went over to my Prinicpal's where we had dinner and drinks before going back to the house to get some sleep. Not that sleep was really an option thanks to the Church's all night vigil which not only consisted of the singing, but also sermons in French and Guiziga (the local language). Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your take on it, the Church had hired a loud speaker so the singing and sermons could be projected far and wide throughout the night!
After a slightly restless night therefore, Em and I were up bright and early having decided to go and experience Christmas Mass in Cameroon at the Catholic Mission. After a special Christmas brekkie of scrambled egg and tomoato ketchup (yes, that's real Heinz ketchup!), we donned our Christmas outfits that we'd had made and even topped them off with headscarves that matched our skirts which is the typical dress of the women here. It must have been a special occasion!
Mass was actually really interesting to see....nothing like anything I've been to at home before. It was really lively with singing and dancing at every opportune moment. I think it was quite fortunate that this was the case as the three hours that was the Mass seemed to go by that little bit quicker! Apparently we made a good choice of Church as the Protestant mass didn't finish until 1pm having started at 7am!

The tradition here is that after mass you 'fait le tour'. This basically means that you go visiting all your friends at their houses and eat and drink at every stop! On our way out to Fodjo's, we bumped into our Prinicpal and his son who came along with us and having eaten and drunk there we picked Fodjo up and went off to the next venue. By the end of the day there were at least 10 of us all going around from place to place together with very full stomachs! Em and I brought sweets out with us and there was a permanent gaggle of kids behind us as we moved from around, all desperatly hoping that there'd be enough sweets for them to have their second of the day. It was such a nice way to spend Chrsitmas Day as we got to share it with all of our close friends. The only misfortunate thing about the whole day was when I accidently chose chicken testicles to eat, having fished out the smallest piece of meat in the bowl in the hope that it would have as little bones as possible. Well, for that there wasn't a problem as the testicles were well and truly boneless!
Evening activities consisted of a quick shower followed by another 'soiree' where we danced the night away until 5am. All in all a really unfortgettable Christmas.

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Sunday, December 25, 2005

A visit from home.....!

These past few weeks have been super busy what with World AIDS day, the end of the first term in school, and to top it off a visit from my big sis!

At the start of this month, preparations were busily underway for World AIDS day on 1st December. In our school we have a Health club of which myself and Sardi are the supervisors. The club recruits peer educaters from various classes in the school (we have 23 in total) whose role it is to run sessions in different classes on a Wednesday afternoon on a topic we have chosen as a club the previous week, for example fidelity, abstinence, condom use etc. On the actual day we stopped lessons at 12 so that the peer educatorss could do their stuff in every class and then in the evening we organised a round table conference at the town hall where we discussed the international theme for the day: 'STOP AIDS: KEEP THE PROMISE'. This seemed to work really well and the discussion was well animated. There were some rather amusing questions however, not least the idea of whether if you don't have a condom, you can substitute it with a plastic bag??!! Not quite sure of the logisitics of that one so suffice to say we advised against it!

The other major event this month was the arrival of my lovely sister who came laden down with chocolate goodies that were scoffed in the first 2 days of her stay! I'd forgotton how much I do actually like eating! To begin with I don't think she really knew what I was talking about when I said that fruit and veg are non exisitant here. Her arrival in Douala and her subsequent 3 day journey up to Moutourwa was filled with juicy oranges, fresh avocado baguettes and the like led her to believe that my estimations of the food situation were rather exaggerated. A week into her stay in the Extreme North however and she had soon come round to my way of thinking! There are only so many tomatoes you can eat before your body starts rejecting it even if it is the ONLY veg available. Not quite sure what happens in March when apparently even the tomatoes finish!How everyone here isn't severely aneamic I'll never know! Em did manage to rustle up some good concoctions whilst she was here mind you, such as tomato pasta, tomoato salad, tomatoes 'simple' i.e raw.

Whilst the novelty of the white woman in the village is slowly diminishing, it's definately not gone away and so what with two of us here you can imagine that the interest was that bit more elevated, especially considering the fact that everyone thought we were twins!! Unfortunately for me, everyone also thought that Emma was at least 2 years younger than me rather than the inverse....someone even thought she was only 18! I've decided that the sun has aged me! It was recognised on the positive side however that, compared to Em, I wasn't actually very white and that I had become, in my friend's words 'Africanised!'

With it being the holidays we were able to do our tourism bit despite the onset of a few bouts of illness along the way! The VSO conference took place during her stay so we made the 9hr trip down to Ngaoundere (fortunately in the air con VSO car rather than the bumpy bus) for four days only to spend the majority of it in bed with food poisining after eating in the hotel the first night we arrived! The luxuries of an ensuite indoor flushable toilet were definately not lost on us!

A volunteer who’s based in the south has come up to Maroua to visit after the conference so we arranged with him and his friend to hire a 4x4 and go on safari! About 2hours north of Maroua is Waza National Park, supposedly the best national park in West and Central Africa. We though now was a good time to do the tourist bit as the dry season is very much upon us and therefore the roads in the park are accessible and not water logged. After slightly oversleeping, managed to get to the park by 845am, before picking up the guide and entering the vast landscape. We hadn’t even been in there for 5 minutes before we spotted a herd of giraffes! All very exciting, and we were contentedly snapping away. Four hours and lots more giraffes later and the excitement was wearing thin considering this was the only bloody animal we had seen! There are only so many pictures you can take of a bleedin giraffe and his mates! Fortunately the landscape was really beautiful which distracted us from the fact that there were no animals to be seen…..so much for my image of lions, elephants, hippos etc. We did see an antelope at one point and some water hogs too (which reminded me of Pumba in the Lion King) which were cool but not quite the African safari I had envisaged! After lunch (consisting of dry bread as our plans to bring a picnic were scuppered by our tardiness!) , we heard on the grape vine that elephants had been spotted which lifted all our spirits and we felt very Richard Attenborough-esque driving at high speeds in our truck following the elephant tracks. Two hours later and still no elephants to be seen and the fruitless adventure was cessing to be as exciting! A collective decision was made at 4pm to abandon the search and head home as night falls early here and the roads out of the park are not exactly easy to navigate! Just as were exited the park we were told that elephants had been spotted very recently at a place where we had been in the morning, not too far from the entrance. We decided to make one last attempt to find them and zoomed off at high speeds in search. This time fortunately we weren’t to be disappointed and sure enough,, down by the watering hole were a family of three; mother, father and baby, Very cute indeed. On exiting the park we also came across a group of different types of monkeys and game and we suddenly felt as though we’d actually been quite successful in our pursuits! Not quite like a Kenyan safari I’m sure but the fact that it was so non touristy made it all the more authentic, even if the animals were a bit camera shy this time round! Apparently my school is organising a trip there in January time so I’m hoping to have a bit more success that time round!

We’re heading back to the village today ready for the festivities tomorrow. Today is my neighbour’s birthday so we have been invited to her party this afternoon which I’m very excited about as party’s here mean lots of yummy Cameroonian food and dancing! Tomorrow being Christmas Day, Em and I are going to head over to the Church to see how they celebrate as we’ve heard that the atmosphere is excellent which is only t be expected what with all that practise the kids have been putting in for the past month! I’ve been told that Christmas is a bit like the end of Ramadan where you go to house to house visiting people. This time round I intend to ration how much I eat and drink in each person’s house however so as not to end up like a big bloated whale with five galloons of fizzy pop inside me! It’s also Fodjo’s birthday tomorrow so we will be having a double celebration. Evening activities will consist of yet another infamous soiree in the village so we’ll see how that pans out!

Hope you all have a merry Christmas. Miss you lots xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Friday, December 09, 2005

Weddings, beer and dangerous driving!

This week has also been a bit of an emotional rollarcoaster what with the events going on at home and the fact that I can't be there but everyone here has been trying to keep me occupied. This being the case, I headed off with the Principal last Sunday for the day to Tokombere, a village north of Maroua, about 2 hours drive from Moutourwa, where he spent 5 years as Principal before coming to Moutourwa. We set off at 7am which I thought was rather early for a general visit of a village until I found out when I got in the car that we were actually attending a wedding of one of the Principal's friends from the village. All very well apart from the fact that I was hardly dressed for the occasion in my jeans! On arrival though I realised that this wasn't really a problem as dress code ranged from suit and tie (how they did it in 40 degree heat I don't know) to tracksuit bottoms and bare feet for the poorer sections of the community.

It was such a privilege to actually be able to attend the wedding and see how a chiristan ceremony is celebrated over here. Suffice to say it's a bit different from back home! The Church itself was outdoors, the altar was made of stone with a stone bench for the priest and his entourage to sit on whilst the congregation sat on stones that had been placed in rows and embedded into the ground. Very quaint. Invitations aren't required and the whole of the village was there to celebrate with the bride and groom. Traditional hymns aren't the order of the day, but instead drums, singing and lots of dancing at every possible moment was more apt. It's certainly true that people know how to celebrate here and after the ceremony (which lasted 3 hours and involved numerous dancing processions around the happy couple!) big bowls of fufu corn and meat emerged along with buckets of the traditional 'bil bil' wine. On occassions such as this, unbeknown to me, protocol is nowhere to be found and everyone just crowds round the nearest bowl to them and dives in. This being the case, before I knew where I was all the food had been whoffed down by the children that had strategically positioned themsemves near the food. What was really nice about the ceremony was that it was open to everyone in the village and everyone was invited to share the food and wine. The official recpetion, as I found out after, was being held in the evening and only close friends and family would be attending. Considering it was a Sunday, the Principal and I said that we couldn't stay as we had to gat back for school the next day. This didn't go down too well with everyone there and they resolved to make us stay as long as possible which basically involved suppplying us with a constant supply of beers!

Four beers later and no food all by 3pm in the afternoon and I was beginning to feel the effects to say the least. We took a short break from the drinking to have a wander round the village and visit the Principal's old school before hitting another bar. As the day was drawing to a close , I was beginning to get a bit anxious that our planned departure before sunset would not materialise. Normally such things would not bother me, however the Principal had expressly said that we needed to leave before night fall as the road into the village was so bad with pot holes etc and he didn't know the road well enough to navigate in the dark!

Another two beers, the sun long gone and we are still there chatting away with the other guests. Half seven and we finally come to the conclusion that it might be a good idea to think about setting off. Well, I'm not too sure how we managed to navigate round the potholes but at one stage as the car narrowly avoided falling sideways into a big valley of a ditch, I began to have visions of me sleeping there until someone rescued us at sun rise!

All in all it was a really nice day. My sis is coming over in a few weeks and the Principal has promised to take us on a trip back up to Tokombere so I can take some photos (silly me forgot the blimin camera!) and this time we'll stay over so as to avoid any potential death traps that manifest themselves at sunset!