Sunday, June 12, 2016

It takes a Village...

It takes a village to raise a child - and also to take care of the "Hall" family in Douala.


Our village is incredible.  It's been a journey to get to this place, but we finally have it together - and we are grateful.  

"It Takes a Village" is actually attributed to an African proverb.  It was adapted by Hillary Clinton as the title of her book, but it was also a book title by Jane Cowen-Fletcher published in 1994.  The statement refers on a broad scale to the concept of communal living and support.  In Africa, especially, it takes a village to survive since we are all dependent on one another for the basics.  We have learned the importance of this statement and know that we could not easily live here alone.  

Let me introduce you to our village.  


Julienne works in our house every day cleaning, doing laundry, cooking and helping to manage our home.  She knows the local vendors and has opinions about most of them.  Her eagle eyes help me around the house - both inside and outside.   While we had a rocky start, I am glad that we both stuck with it.   She desires to please and has a very kind heart.  When I was sick recently and Charles was traveling, she was worried.  She kept coming to the couch and feeling my head, commenting, "Too hot, madam.  Fever.  Need hospital".   She confirmed with the nurse when she came by to check on me and then refused to leave until Charles arrived home late that evening, staying about 3-4 hours longer than her regular hours.    Julianne is a single mom and has 4 children and 2 grandchildren, which she supports on her small salary.  She has two biological children, (ages 26 and 30) and two children (ages 11 & 14)  that she adopted after her brother died.   Her brother had 6 children, so different family members each took a child or two to raise after his death, which is very common here.  She struggles financially and constantly runs into issues with her electricity bills and other needs.  However, she has a positive attitude and seems happy most of the time.  She speaks French and pidgin English, so our conversations are always interesting.   Initially, there was a question of who was cooking on a daily basis (You YOU cook), but we have managed to get meals on the table along with a weekly loaf of homemade bread, which she is very proud of learning.   Overall, I appreciate her willingness to try things out of her comfort zone and her dedication.  She has a good sense of humor and I seem to be the main source of entertainment for her, especially as I work on my French 'sounds'.   :)  She comes in on her days off happily if needed, and she has never been late or missed a single day.   We are thankful to have her here.   She is active in her church ladies group and tries to leave early on Fridays to go to the church next to our home for mass.   Her smile is priceless.  


Peter has 2 daughters, a son and a wife.   He brings me local foods to try and likes to teach us about Cameroon.  He is the main caregiver for our dog, Fletcher.  He feeds him and bathes him weekly - and makes sure that the vet is called when needed.  Peter is very serious about his job - and he knows EVERYTHING that happens on our street.  If he misses anything, he knows where to go on the network to find out.  He is a social butterfly and everyone in our neighborhood knows him.  He is proud to say that he has worked for our home for over 7 years.  He has not had a vacation in three years, and is looking forward to taking a few weeks off this summer.  We discovered that he had initially planned a vacation during April, but when he found out that my Mother-in-Law was coming, he cancelled it.  He wanted to be here to greet her and make sure that she was well guarded.   He walks around our house and knows where I am at all times.  He has been known to peer in and knock at the window where I am sitting inside to ask me a question.  It really makes me feel like I live in a fish bowl since we have a lot of windows downstairs.  One day he knocked at the window to ask me if I was ok since he noticed that I had been sitting in the same place for a few hours.   It was the first day I was sick and he was worried.    His job is our day guard but he also helps out in the yard with the plants as needed.   He is a Godsend - and we are grateful for him.  Peter is an Anglophone - which means that he comes from an English speaking territory.  He also speaks French, which is helpful.  He often asks (pleads and begs) for a second dog and keeps offering to find a puppy for us.   He promises to feed it and wash it and take care of it (and name it George) and train it as a guard dog.   He also washes the car every evening - RAIN or shine.  He cleans out the water tanks every 3-4 weeks and keeps our gates and walkways tidy.   He has a positive attitude and is happy almost all the time.  He and Julienne are like brother and sister.  They get frustrated with each other and argue, but they take care of each other well.    I asked Peter recently what he will do on vacation since he is really looking forward to the time off.   He explained that he would not be resting, but he needed to return to his village to repair the roof of his house which fell in a few months ago.  I am constantly humbled.....

Theo has two children with his first wife and just had his first babies (TWIN boys!) with his junior wife (#2). Julianne gets frustrated with him often and says that he doesn't have enough money to feed himself and didn't need to have babies.  She commented that people having too many babies with too little money was what was wrong with Cameroun!  ðŸ˜³ Theo was in a bad motorcycle (taxi) accident last year and took some time to recover.  He is very thin, and often hungry, which also frustrates Julianne.  The rule in our home is that none of our village goes hungry - ever.   So she cooks for him and he always wants more (which he always gets).    His job is a day guard and he mainly sits in our carport at the guard desk all day.  He checks outside of our gate often and opens the doors as needed, but he doesn't have a lot to do.   The prior person gave him 1000xfa to mop the carport floor and we have continued that practice.  1000xfa equates to $1.72 USD and he is always so very grateful to receive it.  He opens both hands and bows every time I give him the money.  It really is heartbreaking.   Theo is Francophone (speaks only French), so our conversations are very limited.   His salary is paid by the guard service that we have hired and he has worked at our house for many years as well.  As in all our 'village', we try to help out in addition when needed. 


Mishak always wears a baseball hat, every single day, even with his uniform.  The day that I took the picture above was the first time I have ever seen his head. :).  (If you look closely, you can see the bill of his hat on the table.)  Mishak is one of our night guards and works from 7pm to 7am.  In addition to guarding our home, he takes care of the "right side" of our yard.  He is paid by the guard service and then we pay him extra for the yard work.   Mishak has three children - a boy (age 4) a girl (age 2) and a baby son, born a few days ago.  The baby has been a great source of concern recently since he was breech, and his wife was very afraid of a potential surgery.  I've seen the local hospitals and can certainly understand her fears.  His wife has been in the hospital for weeks and finally had to have a c-section on Monday   She will stay in the hospital another week - but he needs cash to pay for it before she leaves the hospital. Medical insurance is not common and most families work together to pay for procedures needed.  They get loans and gifts from friends and employers and are able to pay the bill.  It is an amazing system.   Mishak doesn't know his child's name yet, since it is the decision of the grandparents and they will announce it on the 8th day after birth.  Depending on the tribe, they may have a naming ceremony at that time as well. 

Mishak is quiet and hard working and takes his job very seriously.  He explained that I shouldn't worry about when his wife would have the baby since he did not plan to miss a day of work.  He was true to his word, but came in as a proud father excited to tell us the news.    Mishak speaks both French and pidgin English.   He is often found during the day asleep in a storage closet behind our house.  He has to stay up all night guarding, so he sleeps during the day - and also does the yard work before he starts his guard duties.  It is probably easier to sleep at our house in the afternoon, rather than his own.   Most of the guards clothes are also washed at our house and they have a clothesline  out back. During the rainy season, we often find clothes hanging in front of our a/c outside units since it blows hot air.  


Devine is also one of our night guards. He is married with three children and is from the Bamende area of northwest Cameroon, close to Nigeria.  He comes from an Anglophone tribe, and speaks English and French.  He also takes care of the yard - the left side.  The guys have divided out the tasks, so we try not to get involved.  :)   I wonder how they decided where the line for the middle would be?  Devine also comes in early one day a week in order to mow the lawn since his guard duties don't start until 7 pm.   Divine is quiet and works hard.  He is pleasant yet stoic,  but seems to have a good sense of humor when we are fortunate enough to see it.  He loves futbol (Soccer) and enjoys his collection of futbol shirts when he is not in uniform.   They have a TV outside and we can hear the games loudly some nights from inside of the house. 


Samson is also one of our night guards.  He is always, always smiling - and has great enthusiasm for his job.  He is young - about 28 - and speaks mainly French, but knows enough English to communicate.  


Ernest is our driver.  He has three children and is very proud of them.  His oldest is 12 and in boarding school, which is very common here.  He also has a 6 year old daughter and an 8 year old son.  Ernest is here every morning at 6:30 am to take Charles to work, then back at our house by 7:45 many days to take me to the gym.  He drives me wherever I need to go during the day and is a fabulous source of information.   I think that he can locate whatever I might possibly need in Douala.  He travels with us out of town when necessary and run errands.  He is totally bilingual in French and English which is VERY helpful and helps me translate at times.  He assists us in understanding all things Cameroun.    His favorite subject is politics, both inside and outside of Cameroon.  When he is waiting for us, he is always reading and dreams to go to the USA one day.  

Johnson / Theo / Elvis / Dennis / Emmanuel / Remi / & Emmanuel II are our weekend and night drivers.  We work on a rotational basis for the weekends unless we have something specific planned where Ernest needs to be here. 


Daniel is our pool guy.  He is at our house three days a week for a few hours each day.  He manages our pool pump, cleans the pool and takes care of all maintenance for us.He tends to hang around with our guards and seems to fit in with our little village well.  He rides a motorcycle to work and carries long poles with skimmers on the back along with additional pool equipment.  During the rainy season, he cleans the pool in the rain.  


Victor  is our painter and one of the maintenance guys.  He was at our house for about 7 MONTHS after we first moved in - almost every day.  He is the slowest, but best painter around.  I figure that the air conditioning, the food, and the environment contributed to the speed of (not) getting things down.  He always has a smile and works hard.  He has three boys - and the newest one, FREEDOM, was born a short time after we arrived.   He wears an brown jumper every day and is happy to please with whatever we need.  He also likes to eat our leftover chicken bones.  We were going to give them to the dog and he asked to eat them for lunch instead.   Afterwards, Julienne started saving the bones for him.  Wow....  We still see him often in our village since there is always extra work to do.  Sometimes he just stops by to say hello.  :)  


Our village wouldn't be complete without Fletcher.   He is 9 years old and an excellent guard dog.  He doesn't like women overall, but has always wanted extra attention from me.  The guards tell me that he knows that I am his mother and that I buy the food.  Ha!  Fletcher also knows that I will pet him every time I pass and he patiently sits right in front of me (blocking my way sometimes) until he gets my attention.  To me, he is a loving dog and very obedient.  To others, he has a growl that comes from deep within and a bark to prove he means business.   Most people are afraid of him, and we promote his fierceness to any strangers that visit.  I think that he would be hard to restrain if provoked, but we are grateful to have him here.   He is up to date on his rabies shots, which is good to know. 😳I have a lot of respect and admiration for our village.  It is a miniature society of typical life in Cameroon and we have learned so much from them.   While they earn a higher-than-normal living working for us, we are the ones who benefit by their care, their smiles and their kindness to us.  We couldn't function without them and yet we are amazed with the lives that they lead on a day to day basis.   They are a part of our extended world and they never complain,  and always happy in the face of much despair and poverty.  

When I moved to Africa, 5 1/2 years ago, my prayer was that I would see beauty in this place.  My prayers have been answered since I see beauty often in the people who live here, and especially in the eyes of our village.  We are so blessed.  

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ape Action Africa

We were invited by friends to go to Cameroon's 
Mefou Primate Park, close to Yaoundé.  

The park is operated by Ape Action Africa, which is a nonprofit NGO dedicated to primate rescue and rehabilitation.   Their goals are to address threats faced by gorillas and chimps in Africa and to work with communities to develop long-term solutions to ensure the animal's survival in the wild. 

One of the main issues in Cameroon is that primates are used by the locals as food.  In fact, eighty percent of the meat eaten in Cameroon is killed in the wild and is known as "bushmeat".   The nation's favored dishes are gorilla, chimpanzee or monkey because of their tender flesh.  According to one estimate, over 3,000 gorillas are slaughtered in southern Cameroon every year in order to supply the commercial (albeit illicit) demand for ape meat.  This does not only affect the adults, but the babies are then left as orphans with many dangers around them.   

Ape Africa wants to change the way that Cameroonians view primates.  Their organization goes into the schools and into the communities to educate the local population.  Not only do monkeys carry the Ebola virus, they also harbor many other diseases, which are passed on to the humans that consume them.  In fact, AIDS, the worst pandemic of modern times, is thought to have begun in the rainforest of West Central Africa as a result of the bush meat trade.   

 In order for Ape Africa to do the rescue and rehabilitation work needed on a limited budget, they solicit the help of international volunteers.  Willing participants come for 1-2 months at a time to assist in the care of the animals.  The very rustic building above is where the volunteers live during their stay.   

Some of the volunteers were cooking a meal when we arrived, so 
we could clearly see that this is a labor of love and conviction! 

Other animals are seen in the Mefou Park, including this goat 
standing right off the main path.  

The signs point the way to the main attraction of the 
park - the primate living areas.  
The jungle in this area is lush and it seemed surreal to walk 
where scenes of "Tarzan" episodes could have been filmed.    

"We rescue orphaned and injured gorillas and chimpanzees, some only days old, hours from death. Once they are in our care, we work around the clock in the Mefou Primate Park to give them urgent veterinary care and nourishment." 

"In the protected zone at Mefou, safe from poachers, the animals are cared for by our trained experts, many of them local community members who have joined our team. Eventually, when the young orphans are strong enough, we reintroduce them to groups of their own kind in safe and controlled environments." 

The organization has different primates separated by breed and age groups in large, natural enclosures.  It was interesting to watch how they interacted with us as we came by.    Some of them watched us intently, while others were clearly bothered by our appearance.  

"We are committed to identifying areas that can be set aside as protected habitat for rescued gorillas and chimpanzees. It is our hope that one day the great apes and monkeys in our care will be released back into the wild, where they belong." 
Your U.S. tax dollars are at work in Cameroon - for a very worthy project.  
Protecting the primates help in protecting the people of West/Central Africa, which in turn protects us ALL from the spread of preventable diseases.  

These are teenage chimpanzees and they provided the most interesting interaction of the day.  After the largest male watched us for a short time, he jumped up, grabbed a stick and bellowed.  He then ran about 20 yards across the front of the pen, drawing a line with the stick across the sand.   We were clear that the line in the sand was his way of marking off the area that we should not cross.  He ran back and forth a few times 'threatening' us with his voice and clapping loudly before he settled down - turning his back to us for the rest of the 'visit.'   I've always heard about the proverbial 'line in the sand'.  Now I have seen it firsthand!  

The park has approximately 350 primates in their care with 110 chimps and 20+ gorillas.  Once they leave the veterinary care and go into the pens, it is sometimes a struggle to keep them in.  These animals are smart and constantly figure out how to get out.  Electric fences help - and most of the pens have two  separate barriers.  

As we walked in the jungle, we were amazed at the different types of trees and plants.  I looked up and couldn't resist a picture of the light shining through.  What beauty! 

This is a male mandrill - one of the largest monkeys in the world and related to the Baboon family.    They live only in the rain forests of equatorial Africa and they are endangered since many Africans consider them to be a great delicacy.  Their faces are hairless with a very distinctive red and white color, which becomes brighter when the animal is excited.  Their cheeks have built-in pouches that are used to store food for later consumption.  They also have yellowish or golden beards and are considered to be the most colorful male mammals.   The females are lighter in color with less distinctive tones. 

Mandrills (males) are also known for their colorful rumps,  which are bright blue and pink, depending on age.   The colors make it easier to follow in the jungle and apparently the colors attract the females.   Mandrills live in troops (or hordes), which are headed by dominant males and may include a dozen or more females and young.   They are mainly terrestrial monkeys and they move with long arms to forge for fruits, small animals and roots on the ground.  They typically climb up into the trees in order to sleep.   

 Ncarla, a female gorilla, was rescued as a baby and still lives in Mefou.  
This is her footprint in 2009.  

This baby was stressed when we walked up.  He went to his mother for comfort.  We were clearly bothering them to be close by.  Many of these animals have seen men slaughter their family members, so seeing a strange human could be bothersome.    
These chimps were holding hands, probably as a comfort move around us.  

However, this little guy was most interested in entertaining us.   
He was comical in showing off for our group!  

The Mefou Primate park was well marked with paths 
through the jungle to the next enclosure.  

While the park is rustic and true to nature, it was also well done overall.  Emphasis was placed on the care of the animals instead of the surroundings, which was impressive.  

This is a Western Lowland Gorilla which is indigenous to equatorial Africa.  
The gorilla is the largest living primate, characteristically a stocky animal with broad chest and shoulders, large hands, and forearms which are much shorter than the upper arms. The face is hairless and black in color, with small eyes that are close together and large, very prominent nostrils. 
This male just stared at us, finding us as interesting as we found him.  
I found it informative to learn that the gorillas are emotionally more fragile than the chimps - especially after trauma.  They respond like humans and can shut down completely and die of a broken heart.   

This HUGE male gorilla is referred to as a Silverback, which is the mature, experienced male leader of the troop in the wild.  The silverback is responsible for the safety of his group and also makes the decisions for food and shelter.  The silverbacks frequently show off their strength by tearing off branches and shaking trees.  
We were fascinated with this gorilla.  She discovered that wood was not a conductor of electricity and used the branch to lift the electrical wires.  

She wanted something right outside the fence and was able to stick her hand through with the help of the wood and retrieve it.  Thankfully there were two sets of electrical fences, but my guess is that she could figure out a way to get out if she really wanted.  

As we were leaving the forest, we were amazed at the size of the Obeche trees.   These hardwoods grow only in the tropical part of West Africa and are used for lumber, both locally and as an export product.  

The trees grow to over 100 feet tall and have a trunk diameter of 5 feet.  We often see these huge trees loaded on trucks going through Douala.  

 At the exit of Mefou Park, I was happy to see some traditional mud houses up close.     
The houses are rectangular structures made of dried-mud bricks and thin posts. Roofs are sometimes made of thatched raffia palm, but more commonly seen with corrugated aluminum or tin.  
I liked this picture of the Park workers' laundry hanging outside one of the houses.  This is so typical of what we see and a good exampleof daily life in this part of Cameroon.  

Our day at Mefou Primate Park was wonderful and a rare glimpse into the life of the bush.   What a great opportunity to see life in the wild up close and personal!   

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Yaoundé is the nation's capital and lies approximately 140 miles east of Douala.  

The road from Douala to Yaoundé is a two lane, rural road known for its many accidents.  
The volume of traffic, the trucks and the winding turns make it dangerous.   

Getting out of Douala can also be a challenge.  
It took us over an hour to go the first 15 miles.  

The journey is sometimes more interesting than the destination - especially in Africa.  

Palm oil, a type of edible vegetable oil mainly used for frying and for 
cooking beans,  is sold by the side of the road all over West/Central Africa.   
The red oil comes from the palm fruit of the African oil palm 
tree and is very high in saturated fat.  

Roadside cafe - Cameroonian style.     

Traffic continued normally while this truck was on fire.  We could feel the 
heat inside of our car while we passed.  Abandoned and wrecked vehicles tend 
to be left by the side of the road - and then burned by "officials" to get rid of them. 

We assume that this one will be set on fire next.  

 This car in front of us has a LIVE goat on top strapped down.  
I suppose they want the meat to be fresh when they arrive.  
Notice the oncoming car has a CASKET strapped to the roof.  
You just can't make this stuff up! 

There were scenic parts of the countryside too.  

As we passed this area, we saw freshly killed grasscutter (similar to a super-sized rat) hanging by the road.  We also saw smoke in the distance.  Our driver explained 
that they were setting fires to run out animals in the bush to catch them easily. 
 Bush meat is very popular here and includes monkeys, snakes, grass cutters, rats - 
and everything else that might live in the bush.  When they catch it, they just hang
 it on a pole by the road and  someone will buy in within a short time.  A few 
minutes later, we saw an ENORMOUS fish hanging by the side of the road too.  
I guess if you stop, someone will happily sell it to you.  
Drive by, bush meat - at your service!     

Each little village along the way had a person collecting a "toll" to drive on the road.  
There were also LOTS of vendors selling wares as the cars slowed down.  I wanted to 
get a close-up view of the ladies selling bobolo, but this was the best one I had.  Bobolo is 
mashed up cassava steamed in cassava leaves and tied in a string.  It is usually eaten with fish.   The people behind them are sitting in an outdoor restaurant.  

Firewood can also be purchased easily.  

 Baskets grow on trees in some villages.   :) 
Bananas are sold right off the branch. 

 One of the rivers we crossed on the way showed the diversity of the landscape.

As we came into Yaoundé, it seemed to be dramatically different from Douala.  
The streets are well paved in Yaoundé and more crowded, yet its chaos seems more 
organized then Douala.  Yaoundé is greener and spread out on a plateau over seven hills, 
which surround the city.   It is also cleaner and boasts many 1970 style buildings, 
giving it an unkempt, dated appearance.   
  The motorcyclist is wearing a hard hat - backwards - as his helmet, and this is not uncommon to see.  Notice the oncoming bentiskin (motorcycle taxi) 
has a military man as his passenger.  
The wiring always makes me stare in wonder. 
There's such colorful activity on these African roads.  
I might mention that it is HOT here - and we are in the dry (hot) season in Cameroon. 
 Even though Yaoundé is less humid and a tad bit cooler than Douala, it is 
still in the mid to upper 80s.   I am always amazed when I see motorcycle 
drivers wearing long sleeve jackets and wool caps.  We were sweating!  
We also noticed that the traffic overall in the capitol city is MUCH worse than Douala.  

We sat in this traffic for a LONG time trying to get to our hotel.  

We stayed at the Hilton in Yaoundé, which was very comfortable.  
 I'm not sure that this particular bronze statue made us feel very
 welcome.  Possibly a man waving a machete with a head on a stick is 
not the warm, fuzzy feeling that I expected from the Hilton Hotels. 
 However, our room was spacious and clean,  and it is the nicest 
place we have stayed at in all of West -Central Africa so far.  

Driving around Yaounde brought typical scenes we have seen in other areas.  
However it still amazes me at the electrical lines.  I think that many of the little 
shops just add a cable to the main line and connect it directly.   
This is the original world wide web. :) 
Even with sand and rocks, you still have to make a living.  

Throughout Cameroon (and other places in this area of the world), mattresses 
and furniture pieces are sold by the side of the road - rain OR shine.  

We passed many colorful, busy markets in Yaoundé. 

It seems like women wear more traditional dress here than in Douala too.  

The green hills of Yaoundé were really different than the flat landscape of Douala. 
 It was a nice change for us and we had a wonderful visit to the capitol city.

Just in case we wanted to take the train, it runs daily between Douala and Yaoundé.  
We also enjoyed a wonderful diner at a unique restaurant called Cafe de Yaoundé.  
It was open to the outdoors with levels of gardens and a variety of seating.  
We enjoyed the dinner with friends in the wonderful ambiance of this eclectic cafe. 
 It was a nice ending to a fun weekend in the capital city of Cameroon.