Sunday, July 3, 2016

Maneuvering through the Mangroves

We had an opportunity to visit the African mangroves in Cameroon - up front and personal.   We started our day by meeting our canoe and guide at a local market located right by the shore.    

After walking across the mud to the boat, we boarded with a little bit of help from the locals.  :)    

Our group consisted of 7 adults, three children and two guides 
which was perfect - and probably over the maximum number for the boat!    

The 'canoe' was comfortable overall, but there were a few spots where the seawater seeped through the rustic boards at the floor.    Occasionally our captain would use a bucket to remove the 'excess liquid",  but it didn't seem to slow us down.   :)  

The view on the water is always interesting with lots of boats, which have seen better days.   

These men were collecting sand from the bottom of the river.   
You can see how heavy the sand is as it weighs the boat deeper into the water.   
They will sell the sand locally in order for concrete blocks to be produced.  

We turned the corner into the small tributaries and we were impressed 
with the peacefulness of the water and the serene views.  

The reflection on the water was mesmerizing 
and it was a wonderful break from the hustle of Douala.  

Entering the mangrove swamps are only possible in the mornings, when the tide is low.    
The tide varies as much as 6 feet as it ebbs and flows.  

Mangroves are small trees or shrubs which grow in salt water within coastal areas.  
These swamps are found worldwide, primarily in tropical and subtropical climates.  
Most mangroves are congregated within 15 degrees north and 15 degrees south of the equator.  

Mangroves have adapted to harsh coastal conditions
 due to their complex salt filtration system and an elaborate root system.  

High tide brings salt water from the sea into the swamps. 
 (The dark line shows the high tide levels).    When the tide recedes, solar evaporation of the seawater in the soil leads to further increases in salinity.  The return of the tide flushes out the soil, bringing the saline level back equal with seawater.    At low tide, the plants are exposed to increased temperature and dryness, then are cooled and flooded again by the tide.  

For plants to thrive in this difficult environment, they must be able to tolerate wide ranges of temperatures, moisture levels and salinity as well as other environmental factors.  
Because of this challenging and constantly changing surrounding, only a few species
 flourish in a mangrove community.  

Since saltwater can kill plants, the mangroves extract freshwater from the seawater which surrounds them.  Many species filter out as much as 90% of the salt as it enters their roots.  Other trees and bushes excrete salt through glands found in their leaves.  
These leaves, especially those found in the red mangrove family,  are covered with 
dried salt crystals.   Some species store salt in their bark.  

Mangroves also store fresh water in their leaves.  A waxy type coating on some species of mangroves minimize evaporation and then help seal in the water.   Small hairs on the leaves deflect sunlight and wind, which reduces water loss.  

Some mangroves grow thin roots that stick out of the wet ground like snorkels.  These roots, called pneumatophores, allow mangroves to 'breathe' and cope with daily flooding by the tides.  The roots take in oxygen from the air.  

Once mangroves are well established, the roots provide a good environment for heavy sediment.  The swamps protect coastal areas from erosion and can dissipate wave energy,  helping with storm surges.  They also slow down tidal water and help protect the land around them.  Mangroves have a unique ecosystem and are often the object of conservation programs.  

Joanne, Wyatt and Janet are enjoying the peaceful journey.   
The hats were much needed as the sun was very HOT! 

Laura, Adrianne and Charles enjoy the relaxing ride, 
while someone else does the paddling of the canoe. :) 

Ferns grow massively in this region.   This is the largest one I have ever seen! 

We were able to stop midway to visit a Nigerian village (yes, in Cameroon).  
The chief bale was out today, but we came prepared with small gifts for the village
 and lollipops for the children. 

This was our greeting party. The children seem to enjoy visitors.  

As we pulled up in our canoe, the children came running to watch.  

 Getting out of our canoe was an experience and we had an audience.  We climbed from our canoe, across the top of a second canoe, then jumped down on the mud.    The men put sticks into the ground, so that we would have a place to hold on.  It was obvious that we didn't have the same balance as the locals!   The boat 'captain" came into the water to get the youngest child and carried him onto shore.  

The children immediately gathered around us, 
exhibiting both friendliness and curiosity.  

We showed them the pictures from our camera, 
and they would laugh and ask to pose for more. 

Then the children were anxious to lead us into the center of the village.  

The raised wood planks took us along the shoreline.  
We really had to watch where we walked! 

We were invited into one of the houses to greet some of the residents.  

This lady was all smiles and was happy to show us her work.  
Her job was to untangle fishing line so the lines and hooks were ready to use again.   Their diet mainly consists of fish and plants - so this is an important part of life for them.  

I wonder how long the same line and hooks have been used?  

Floats and nets for fishing were scattered all along the shore.   
There are a few shoes mixed in this bunch.  

 The children were happy to get lollipops! 

Every village seems to have a central gathering point, and the church most often is the main building.  The loud speakers let the community know when something is happening.  

The church has no windows or doors, but it appears to be a more solid structure 
than the rest of the buildings we saw.  

The main stage/altar contains some gourds and other flowered items.  

This is inside of the church hall.  The space down the middle is often used for dancing and for ceremonies.  The benches are along the side of the room to conserve space.  I liked the Happy New Year sign still UP too!  (Bonne Annee) 

We were impressed with the portable drum with the map of Cameroon on it.   
Note the linoleum floor used for the aisle. 

Every village needs rules.  I enjoyed seeing the rules posted here - 'approved' by the General Commander of the SalvEtion Army.    It says, "Please follow the Rules and Regulation.  No stilling, Fighting, smoking, Disterbance.  Order by The Most Senior Kelubu Akeme.    

For translation purposes, "stilling" is stealing and "Disturbance" is typically yelling.  The Most Senior Kelubu Akeme is the head chief of the village.  Apparently this chief has many many wives.  Most of the children are his - or related to him.  

This is one of the chief's wives.  She just had a baby a week ago and they invited us in to greet her.  Her bedding was beautiful and the baby was precious.

There's only one place in the village where reception is found.  Cell phones can be used RIGHT here only.  Most of the residents will hang their cell phones by a string and leave them here.  THIS is a modern day "phone booth".  :) 

The children ran out to tell us goodbye.   This was the wood that we walked around the village on, many held up by a few wobbly boards.  

As we were leaving the fisherman cast his net.  I am amazed every time I see this! 

Father and son are pulling in the nets.  

Joanne and John enjoy the ride back. 

As we got closer to Douala, we enjoyed the sights of homemade sail boats.  

I am always impressed with the ingenuity in the region. 

We passed some Tidewater vessels docked close by too. 

The locals grabbed the rope to help pull us into shore.  
They didn't want us to walk in the water, so we teetered along the side of the boat rail, 
across a thin piece of wood and jumped to dry ground.  

What a fun, fun day!  

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!  😳 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.