Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The wedding of the year!

The following morning we were up early and heading off to catch the bus to Bafoussam after having dumped all the excess luggage at the VSO office. We were lucky with buses and were the last couple of passengers to board (over here the bus leaves when it’s full, hence the no timetable aspect of the bus system!) The four hour bus journey wouldn’t have been too bad apart from the fact that I had the worst seat on the bus, which had no back to it and the girl sat next to me spent the entire time sleeping on my shoulder!

Arriving finally in Baffoussam and it’s true what they say about Cameroon being ‘Africa in miniature’ because of its diversity. This place was so lush and green – like the Caribbean almost. So totally different from Moutourwa! Pineapples, guavas, oranges that are actually orange and not green in colour, beans etc everywhere you looked. Seriously I could have fallen totally in love with the place; food in abundance, cool climate and beautiful scenery, if it wasn’t for the bloody bright red mud that is everywhere to be seen. Suffice to say I quickly started regretting the wearing of my new white trainers I’d bought at home. Mud up to the knees is NO exaggeration. The only thing to be thankful for was that I never actually fell over resulting in mud up to the head, despite numerous near misses!

The Friday we arrived was the day of the traditional wedding. It was supposedly starting at 10am but Sam and I didn’t arrive until 2pm. The panic about missing it was highly unnecessary as ‘African time’ made that it was only just kicking off on our arrival! In Cameroon, the traditional marriage is considered more important than the religious/civil ones and each area of Cameroon and tribe has different practices about how it must run. Fodjo and his fiancée Bibiane come from the Balimike tribe and in their tradition the traditional ceremony takes place in the village of Bibiane’s parents. Initially Fodjo enters the room where all the guests are waiting with two elders from his side of the family. It is the elders who negotiate with the elders of Bibiane’s family to decide on the dowry. Once this is done, the wife’s elders ask the husband’s elders the reason for their coming. There is then a ritual by which different women are brought in disguise in front of the husband’s family who must recognise the real fiancée! It’s like something out of a punch and judy show with everyone hollering and shouting!

After having correctly chosen (assuming they have!), there are lots of other different rituals before finally the groom’s family leaves the bride’s house to take her back to the husbands’s family house. It is as though the wife has now left her family and become part of a new family. This is one of the reasons why girls are less favoured in Cameroonian society as they are not seen as part of their birth family after marriage and therefore educating them etc is seen as an unreapable investment.

The ceremony was followed by a buffet with lots of food that neither Sam nor myself recognised, but not being shy we tucked in, only to find that we had chosen the most disgusting bright yellow vomit tasting mush you can imagine. What we hadn’t quite banked on was the fact that rather than being able to give it to the chickens or some wandering kid on the sly, the fact that we had chosen, unbeknown to us, the traditional food of Bafoussam, every guest was staring at us in a kind of expectant acknowledgement of how wonderful the food was! Had to employ the whole ‘swallow without chewing with lots of water’ strategy instead whilst trying not to grimace.


Both Sam and I were still recovering from the tiredness from the trip and so were looking forward to a long lay-in on the Saturday morning before the Church service at 2pm. How we ever assumed that this was even an option I don’t know. Just as we were heading to bed at midnight, Fodjo tells us that we’ll be out at 6am the following morning. Great. Wasn’t quite sure what on earth we were going to be doing that necessitated us being up at such a time but, sure enough, we were running round like headless chickens with Fodjo for the entire morning. The mad dash wasn’t purely selfless however and by the end of the morning my wedding outfit had been made (over here the bride and groom choose some material that close friends and family buy and get clothes made from thus solving the usual ‘what shall I wear’ dilemma as well as the ‘I hope no one else has this outfit’ conundrum.) We also had time to make a quick trip to the market to buy a wedding gift before making the unenviable mistake of agreeing to have the present wrapped. 25 minutes to wrap one present no joke. And to top it off, the bloody thing was rectangular!

The Church part of the ceremony was much like at home, apart from the fact that the bride and groom arrive together, and they are both walked down the aisle by their respective parents. There is also the rather amusing tradition of having 10 ‘cheerleaders’ that precede the couple down the aisle, performing a pre rehearsed dance routine! The animated mass, with lots of clapping, hollering and dancing from the congregation was also unlike any wedding I’ve been to at home!

Once the two hour photo session had finished outside of the Church (so much photo protocol!) there was another buffet style meal in a hall next to the Church. It was already 6pm before we got back to the house and the fact that we had to be washed and changed ready for the evening do at 8pm meant that our dreams of a good sleep were left precisely as that – dreams. Sam and I decided that whisky was the answer in an attempt to give us some energy. Over here whisky is sold in small sachets in one big packet so we bought a packet thinking that we would bring them with us to the reception and drink them throughout the course of the night. Good plan, except for the fact that by the time we were leaving at 8pm, there were only 3 sachets left in the entire packet!

After the meal, there was the ‘present giving ceremony’ before the dancing began. This basically meant that everyone queued up in a dancing line and danced their way over to the bride and groom to give them their presents. Thankfully another of my friends had given me a present to give to Fodjo else Sam and I would have only had one present between us which, when every single person got up to give a present, was clearly not the done thing here!

The 6am return to the house after dancing the night away and after having finished the whisky, red wine and all else that was provided during the course of the evening meant that the prospect of a 7am start to head back to Yaounde in order to catch the train north that evening were slightly slim to say the least….!

Friday, August 25, 2006

RETURN TO CAMEROON

So, after a couple of months back breathing London air, I headed back out to Cameroon on the 24th August to start my final year as a VSO volunteer in the village of Moutourwa in the Extreme North of Cameroon. Setting down in Yaounde international airport, and all those fears that had built up about returning after my two month absence were fading once the familiar smells, sound of car horns and the somehow homely sights of tin roofed houses were yet again presented.

Slightly scared arriving at the airport about the usually obligatory X Raying of luggage at the customs point, before being allowed out of the airport. Wasn’t too sure how I was going to explain the 6 laptops, 2 digital cameras, various mobile phones, 3 memory sticks etc to the authorities! Fortunately a quick flash of the Cameroonian ID card, a cheeky smile and we were through unscathed!

Although back in Yaounde on Thursday night with Sam, another volunteer, the plan was to spend a few days down in the south before heading back up to Moutourwa, the main reason being the imminent marriage of my good friend Fodjo in the West province of Cameroon, in the town of Bafoussam. After dumping all 59 kilos of luggage (yep that is not a typo) at the hotel, Sam and I hit the streets of Yaounde for some good old street food – roasted chicken – and got back into the swing of things with the first of no doubt many ‘33’ beers over the next 12 months. Not too much of a late night though and we were soon home tucked up in bed getting bitten to death by the ever present mossies!