Sunday, November 8, 2015

Diwali in Douala

    Diwali, or the festival of lights, is an ancient Indian (Hindu) festival celebrated in autumn every year.  Diwali is one of the largest and brightest festivals in India.  

      However, in Cameroon, the Indian community celebrates with dinner and dancing, along with colorful outfits and family gatherings. 

    We were fortunate enough to be invited to celebrate Diwali at a local Indian restaurant, Bombay Masala.  

    We love Indian food, so it was a chance to eat and visit with friends.  
    An American friend had a sari for me to wear and an Indian friend came by to show me how to drape the scarf and to make sure that we were outfitted appropriately.  
    Another Indian friend brought Charles a tunic to wear, which he thought was very comfortable.  
    We met friends at Bombay Masala at 9pm.  By 10pm, dancing had begun and  the women especially enjoyed it.  I loved seeing all the beautiful colors and outfits!  I also enjoyed seeing the children participate in the celebration.  
    Appetizers were served around 11:00 pm while everyone continued dancing.  

    Dinner was (FINALLY) served at midnight.  
    It was wonderful and included a good variety of salads.  

    Dal, mutton, chicken, a variety of curry dishes and rice were some of the choices available.   We tried a little bit of everything and liked it ALL.   There were also some sweets to end the meal (at 1am).  
    Around 1:30am or so, the raffles began.   Thirty-two tickets were drawn and we didn't win a thing.  However, our friends won a very nice home entertainment system.  

    The evening ended for us around 2:30 am but others were still dancing.   It was a great evening and a fun way to get involved with other expats in Douala.  

    For us, part of the fun of being an expat is learning and participating in new cultures.  We are thankful for the opportunity to have so many varied experiences.  

    Diwali usually ends with fireworks and we have seen the celebrations from afar for years.  The actual date of Diwali is November 11th, so we will look forward to  fireworks on that day.  

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Some days are just harder than others.  Everyone has them - and we are not immune to them here in Cameroon.  Ours involve the transition from one culture to another - and our challenges are rooted in linguistic differences.  Today has been pretty typical with painters at the house, repairmen coming in and out, the pool guy cleaning, our guard helping with maintenance, our driver waiting and our housekeeper cleaning.  The problem lies when I try to get involved in the process.  

We have a housekeeper that worked for the prior residents.  From what I understand, she cooked and cleaned for them.  She does fairly well with the cleaning and with the laundry, but we are really struggling with the cooking portion.   We were spoiled in our prior home in Lagos with Gabriel - who was truly the best part of Nigeria for us.  He cooked 3 meals a day, had cookies and snacks ready when wanted and baked fresh bread every single week.  He managed our household well and kept the refrigerator and cabinets cleaned and stocked.  He anticipated our wants and needs and made our lives so comfortable.  I do not know why I didn't offer him the moon to move to Douala with us!  Julienne tries....but cooking is not a priority for her.   She asks me to help her and then puts me to work cutting or stirring.  She has NO idea what is in the kitchen and often finds me to ask if we have milk or bread, etc.   A huge part of our struggle is language.  Her Pidgin English is only slightly better than my French, so we only partially understand what the other is saying.   I've tried to explain that she should manage the process of food in our house and she agrees.  But when I open the refrigerator and find old vegetables that need to be thrown away because they were never cooked, it is frustrating.  There have been a few times that she has pointed at me and said, "You cook?" and my response is always, "No, YOU cook."  She replies, "D'accord" or Ok.  I think we understand, but it is just hard some days - and it is frustrating.  We are trying to make this work....  It would be easier to jump in and do it myself (which is my tendency),  but it would not be good for our long term goal.  

My biggest challenge here in Douala has been the food.  Many of the products in the grocery store are new to us and the things that are common to me, are just not found here.  I also need to go to multiple locations to pick up a small grocery list and many times the items that I need are 'finished".  So, we adapt and most days we do fine.  I am learning the substitutes for lots of items in the meantime - but some days, we need the real thing.  I'm fairly used to most of these issues after living in Nigeria, but the language on top of it makes it tenfold more challenging.   It is always an exercise in frustration to search the grocery stores since I can't read the labels and dependent on the pictures.    Today, I was looking at soups and found "Soupe de Homard".  Many of the soups look the same with pictures on the front of a reddish soup and I was looking for tomato soup.  After studying it for a while and then comparing the other soups, I finally figured out that it wasn't what I needed and the Tomato Soup must be "finished".  I later looked up the word and found out that it was Lobster Bisque.    Going to the grocery store is just different.  I need to remember to carry my own bags for the groceries, and go through a metal detector to get in (which I don't understand since half the time I beep and no one stops me).   There is a full row of French jams and preserves and a full row of Juices, but I can't find crackers or syrup or sour cream.   The meat is plentiful, but the cuts are different than I've seen before.  The fish may OR may not be fresh, mainly because I get distracted by food LOOKING at me.  There are parts of animals that many consider delicacies that I really don't want to eat (kidneys, brains, tongue...) and there seems to be a lot of goat, rabbit and dove mixed in with the beef and chicken.  If I enjoyed culinary adventures, this would be a good one - but unfortunately, I don't really enjoy creative cooking and just can't get the excitement about preparing new food.  My solution is Peanut Butter and crackers OR Pancakes and we have had far too much of both.  

Back to today.... I left the house fairly frustrated after discussing the menu with Julienne and experiencing a gap in language comprehension on my part.  I headed to the grocery store and found 50% of what I needed at the first location.  The second location had closed for lunch (12:30 to 3:30), so I headed to the first produce stand.   The main ingredient that I needed was 'finished', so I proceeded to the second stand.  As went about my selections, the shopkeeper smiled and encouraged my French.  There was a second Cameroonian lady behind me interrupting and correctly every single word I said - and then translating it into English for me.  Since my French is limited to one word statements, grammar was not even an issue, so I tried to not let it bother me.  I finished my purchase and started to get into the car - just wondering to myself why simple things need to be SO very hard.  Then, the shopkeeper came over and popped open a mangosteen and handed it to me to eat with a smile.  Somehow that small act of kindness just changed my day.  A few weeks ago, I had asked about the mangosteens and purchased a few.  She remembered and asked me if I liked them and I said that I did.   

This sweet lady saw my frustration trying to select new foods in a new culture in a new language, on the side of the street and gave me fruit to replenish my soul.  She understood that I am still struggling with the kilos and the CFA currency.  She knows that my French skills are weak and that I don't know the names of all the produce.   Her smile and her offering made me stop, quiet the anxiety I was feeling and take the time to savor the delicious mangosteen she offered.    Living in a foreign land makes us vulnerable in ways that I would have barely imagined before.  However, kindness transcends all cultures and all languages and makes a frustrating day....just a little bit better.   Thank you Lord for sending a women with a pretty smile and a kind heart my way.   Today I feel blessed living in a new land....

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Ghana - Street Views

As we traveled through the streets of Ghana, we saw typical views similar 
to Nigeria, Cameroon and other locations in West/Central Africa.   In fact, many of the pictures below are much like what we see every single day.  

In this part of the world, dirt roads are prevalent, except for the main city roads.    
Vendors sell their wares in local markets by the side of the streets. 

These are large yams - which are nothing like our sweet potatoes.   The yams are more starchy, similar to cassava.  The smoked and dried fish in the tray above are artfully arranged.  
It is easy to buy food here without getting out of the car.  TVs are obviously available too.  
In the hot, crowded streets, vendors come right up to our cars.  
They wear aprons to hold their money (and their cell phones).  
I am always amazed at how strong their necks must be.  
Children start working young to help out their families.  

I think it is incredible how well they balance things.  I have never seen a single tray drop off of any one's head.  However, if you look closely, they (almost) all have a rolled up rag on their head which does help with the balance.  I know this because I tried it.  I also know that I would last about 3 minutes before everything I was selling was rolling along the road.  
Hands and heads are full of things to sell.  

Fuzzy Dice, flags and bright colored items for your dashboards are plentiful.  

Most of the bread is baked daily and the pineapples here are so sweet.  

Occasionally multiple vendors will crowd the vehicles.  

This picture is blurry, but it shows the nonchalant way that the vendors stand 
and talk without worrying about the load they are carrying.  

Lots of jewelry options are available.  
Anyone need a tire or floor mat?  

I love the USA flag shirt (and orange pants)!    A fire is burning inside the white pail (on top of the tire) and a grill rack has been set on top to cook plantains.  Invention is the mother of necessity.  

MANY of the businesses reflect the religious beliefs of the owners.   About 75% of Ghana is Christian, with the remainder comprising of 17% Muslim, 5% traditionalist (tribal religion) and 3% other (or none).    Messiah Enterprises sells hardware.

This was one of my favorite store names.  Essgrace (His Grace) sells both wholesale and retail goods.  

 I really do love these signs - and the reminder of scripture, which are found in so many places.  
This one says, "The joy of the Lord is my Strength".  

 Sometimes, the store names reflect the wishes of the owners too.   
This one is a classic - "Get Rich Internet Cafe".      
Can anyone say 419??  

 Fresh Coconuts at this drive-by road stand. 

 Get your loaves and fishes here! 

 Eggs heating in the sun are abundant.  Eggs are rarely refrigerated in Africa (until they arrive at OUR house where they are cleaned, sanitized and refrigerated).   The white packets on the table are small rice bags.
 The Blood of Jesus Hardware store is above and they appear to have a good supply of tools.  

And the Blood of Jesus Sewing Centre has an impressive paint job. 

 Local fruits and vegetables are easy to locate.  

 Here is the "Jesus is Mine" vendor stand.  I am not sure what they are selling in the blue bags.

 In this area, they had their names painted over the top of the stand.  
There were about 30 of these lining the roads.  
"God's Power" sells gasoline.   There does seem to be some irony in that statement!  
The cute little boy was just playing alone with no adult in sight.  

 Fresh chickens are available here.  You might have to catch it first! 

Blackie's Enterprise sells shoes, belts and animal skins as well as some other unidentifiable items.   The man is dressed in a typical Ghanaian style - along with his basketball shorts. :) 

More animal skins are for sale at the side of the road right beside the insecticide sign.

And the last picture was taken back at our hotel in Ghana.   I was intrigued by these drums sitting in the middle of the hallway.    They even had good sound quality and I am sure that the other hotel guests appreciated our rhythm.  :) 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ghana - Coastal Views

The town of Cape Coast today is primarily a fishing port.  
 It is located in the south-central section of Ghana, right on the Gulf of Guinea.   

The small city has 170,000 residents.      
Crumbling colonial buildings still line the streets in the background.  
I was fascinated by these views. 
 The colors, the activity and the glance into everyday life in 
this small Ghanaian town was intriguing.  

And the fishing boats were so bright and cheerful, 
especially when they were also used for laundry.   

Cape Coast is the capital of the central region and one of the most historical cities in Ghana.  The city was founded by the people of Oguaa and later settled by the Portuguese.  After the Cape Coast Castle was built, the town grew around the castle.   The town became the center of the British Administration and capital of the Gold Coast from 1700 - 1877, when the capital was moved to Accra.   Ghana finally gained its independence from Britain in 1957.   Our steward in Lagos (Gabriel) is originally from Ghana.  He was in elementary school and remembers the parades and the people lining the street on Independence Day in 1957 - and talks about the pride they felt as Ghanaians to be fully independent. 

I didn't see this lady clothed in a black abaya until after I took the picture.  
She seemed like a surreal part of the landscape. 

The fishermen cast their nets in the same waters
 where slave ships used to sail.  
We enjoyed watching the children swim.  
Some of them wore clothing...and some of them did not.
They were having fun trying to ride the surf on a piece of wood. 

The people in this area of the world are full of creativity 
and ingenuity, created by necessity.    

Locals enjoy the sea breezes, sunshine and plentiful beaches. 

Driving through this small town was both a melancholy peek into the past 
and a peaceful glance at the day-to-day life in Ghana.