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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Chillin’ with the Chief

 

Last Thursday I met a royal for the first time in my life…. No, not Prince William or Princess Kate, although, this king comes from a dynasty almost as long as that of Queen Elizabeth’s… Our study abroad group met with Chief Toukam who welcomed us to his Chefferie last Thursday.

After two hours on a dusty road, we arrived at the beautiful Chefferie of the Batoufam and were greeted by a dozen men and women playing a wooden xylophone, drums, and shaking maraca-like instruments. The beat was like nothing I had ever heard- intense and layered. We ran off the bus to join the village women in their dancing and were welcomed immediately. For the next thirty minutes we danced with these women and men in the dust, which we kicked up until we were surrounded by a haze of red. My friend Sonia turned to me halfway through dancing and said, “There is something really grounding about this.” I agreed wholeheartedly. Moving to the drums with the Bantoufam people, living their tradition and experiencing their joy, I felt at home.

We entered the Chefferie and were guided to one of the Chief’s main sitting rooms which was elaborately decorated with rich wood carvings, brilliant woven rugs, and beautiful wall hangings of the chief.

He had many interesting things to share, including how globalization has effected his tradition and how he helps create development for the people in his village. More to come on those subjects soon…

The subject I was most interested in was his wives, as the majority, if not all, of the traditional chiefs of Cameroon are polygamists. He would not say how many wives or children he had because giving an answer would mean he was done obtaining more wives and making more children. He did say that he is one of his father’s 200 children which kind of gives an idea of how many kids and wives he might have over his lifetime.

After graciously answering our questions the chief took us on a tour of his grounds, which is an honor some community members never get the chance to experience. He took us by the homes of some of his wives, and we went in to say hello. Such a surreal experience. There we met about ten women gathered around the fire, some young and some old, who all welcomed us graciously. In that cool brick room I met Carol, one of the chief’s wives, who was the mother of a little boy sitting in another woman’s lap. Meeting this community of women was as much an honor for me as meeting the chief. These women are in charge of taking care of those living in the village and basically keep the Chefferie running.

In the past month, the bounds of my perspective have been stretched miles away from my comfort zone. Everyday presents a new challenge and a new vantage point from which to view the world.  The stretching process has been sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes joyful, sometimes painful, and always rewarding.

Check out the Royaume de Batoufam at www.batoufam.org
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Celebrate!

Happy Youth Day from Cameroon! We have been here two weeks and have learned MUCH… One of the central lessons is that cultural adjustment is fun, exciting, and really difficult. Almost every social cue and cultural assumption I hold from the US must be reexamined and reworked to fit this world and way of life. Simple things like hygiene in the kitchen and no trash cans in the house and the normalcy of public urination … The list goes on and on. Sometimes these differences are invigorating and then other times they are really overwhelming; I am still working on striking a balance… The home stay, the Cameroonian program staff, and the other study abroad students all make this big adjustment much easier.

Last night was the African Football Cup final- Burkina Faso vs. Nigeria… As you can probably imagine, the city of Yaounde was buzzing with excitement. Many cheered for the obvious front runner, Nigeria, but my host mother and I were rooting for the underdog, Burkina Faso. As I began to open my computer to do some work while watching the game, my homestay mother, Cecile, said, “Lily, do not do work during the match. This is a celebration!” When she broke out the unopened brandy I knew she wasn’t kidding. She gave me money to go to the bar across the street to get the “plus grand bouteille” of Coke to mix with the celebration brandy… And so began an intense ten minute adventure.

I crossed the dirt road to get to one of the many neighborhood bars and discovered almost a hundred people in two open air rooms; one room with dozens of men all the watching the football match, and the other with all of the women yelling jokes at each other and passing around babies. As I waited to order my American Coca Cola, a woman reached out for my hand and said “Bonsoir mon amie!” We then began an amazing conversation about the beer and whether or not I had a boyfriend. Watching these women laugh and celebrate together was so affirming. This moment reminded me that although some days are difficult, the rich spirit, stories, and perspective found here are worth it all.

My friend Sonia's host sister, Gloria... She is the definition of adorable.

My friend Sonia’s host sister, Gloria… She is the definition of adorable.

 

Hello from Cameroon!

IMG_3474Bonjour from Cameroon!  I have been here for one week… it has been incredible and overwhelming.  There are 10 of us Americans here now with one to come soon.  As Sonia and I walked to school this morning we were accompanied by hundreds of petits etudiants…  I still can’t believe we are in Cameroon, living with Cameroonians.  For the most part, this week and weekend have been dedicated to learning and adjusting to this life.  Some things I have learned:

1. Carry hand sanitizer

2. Check if the taxi driver’s picture matches his face.

3. Know how much you will pay for the taxi and where you want to go.  They honk at you and you yell out where you want to go. If he is going there too, then you hop in. If not, he keeps driving.

3. Stock up on clean, bottled water.  You never know when your water will be shut off or for how long.

4. Don’t cross your legs in front of adults. It’s rude.

5. Be prepared to eat more plantains than you want to.  Families offer more than you can eat generally.

6. There is only one trash can and it’s a bucket outside.

7. Guys on the street will follow you and try really hard to be your boyfriend all the time.  This happens to all the girls. Just keep walking.

Our classes are about development and social change in Cameroon, so there will be many posts to come about the amazing change makers in this vibrant country. I am so grateful to be here. À demain!