Monday, August 31, 2015

All in a Day

The house help is disturbed.  

I know this because It was ME who disturbed them.  You see, I like things tidy and clean and in good working order - and therein lies the problem.  

It started around 8:15 am when a carpenter arrived at the door.  He told the housekeeper that he needed to speak with me about a piece of furniture that he was building.  She explained that we didn't NEED that particular piece, since we had a perfectly good one inside.  She also told him that I was sleeping and couldn't be disturbed and to go away - and he did.  I just hope that he will come back.

Charles leaves early - around 6:30am.   Julianne fixes him a smoothie and he is quickly on his way to work.  I get up a bit later - around 7:30-ish (since I really don't have anything at all much on my schedule yet).  I read my devotion, check email, take a shower, etc... which sometimes takes an hour or so, before I come downstairs.   I have explained that I am always available for people that come to the house - so all she has to do is to let me know.  I am NOT sleeping at 8:15 and she is fully aware of that fact.  However, she explained that she thought there was TOO TOO much work going on around this place - and it is disturbing her.   The things that disturb the people that work at our home are items which are not expected, nor even thought about.  

Case 1 - Back to the carpenter who arrived to show me the furniture piece... I had obviously not informed our housekeeper that we had ordered something.  It was concerning her because I was asking for an unnecessary item, when we already had plenty.   She explained in detail that we didn't need anything else and that we should just work on other things.  Al-righty then!   

Case 2 - We had some damaged/broken pieces, mold, etc with our move and have filed a small claim.   We are waiting for the moving company to settle and to pick-up the damaged items.  Since it has been over 3 weeks and I am tired of seeing the articles in the den, I packed it all up and moved it to the covered front porch to await the movers.   This has disturbed our housekeeper.  She feels that we should keep the items inside, upstairs where the guards can't see them.  When I tried to explain, she finally understood that the bags were filled with broken items - so a new situation immediately surfaced.  In pidgin English, she told me, "I take now".  Huh?  "It bad, so I take now".    I explained that the movers were coming to get the bags.  Her bafflement is completely understandable because she is convinced that I like the moving men more than I like her - and am giving it to them instead.  She is completely insulted at the madam and I don't have the right words to explain it correctly.  She is 'no happy'. 

Case 3 - This weekend, I painted an orange/red paint sample on our accent wall in the den - which is currently a bright yellow to test the color that I had ordered.  First thing this morning, the housekeeper explained that it was not a nice look and that I needed to stay with the yellow.  She explained that she liked the yellow and I shouldn't change it - nor should I try to do "art" on the wall since the design that I had chosen wasn't very nice.  About a half hour later, the guard came inside to ask WHO had painted part of the wall - and that the art design wasn't attractive.  I started to explain that a thief had broken into the house with a paint brush, but decided to simply explain that it was only a sample and I was trying out the color.  He politely commented that the yellow was beautiful and that his opinion was that the orangey/red was too bright.  If I didn't like the yellow, and felt that I needed a change, then he would suggest a bright green, which would go much better in the room.  

**Side note: I am not in love with the reddish-orange either since it is WAY too bright, but I do want to bring in the reddish tones, and it is only an accent wall.  The yellow is nice, but it doesn't really match our things.   Maybe some brown glaze might tone it down a bit!  

Case 4 - One of the a/c units downstairs blows warm air.  We have tried new freon and apparently it leaks out due to the age of the unit.  After multiple attempts to repair it, the shop decided to order a new one to replace it.  The item of concern now, is the question of WHO receives the old unit.   The guards are standing in line to get it for their own homes and It is disturbing to them that I did not arrange this ahead of time.  (Do you think this wall needs paint too?) 

Case 5 - The cabana/gazebo outside is full of termites.   The roof is caving in and the floor is rotted completely through.  The insects have even eaten through the broken rattan furniture.   We obtained quotes to repair it and the work started this morning in the rain.  The first item of business was to remove the damaged, termite-eaten wood floor.  The guard approached me this morning to see WHO authorized the removal of the wood.  There was an argument over who gets the termite infested wood - and I was called to solve it.   I should have considered that our own staff needed the wood for their homes before I boldly 'gave it away' to the contractors.   Ok, then - Lesson learned. 

Case 6 - In the midst of the day, Arno (local store) arrived to deliver some chairs.  I found some 'Scratch and dent" chairs for about $20 each and bought them.  My plan is to paint them to use at various places around the house - which seemed like an inexpensive option, giving us extra seating for guests when needed.   Unfortunately, the store required a receipt to deliver.   I obviously didn't understand the system since Charles put the copy of the receipt in his wallet.  I called him at work and he scanned a copy of the receipt to me and I printed it.  Initially, they told me that a COPY of the original receipt was not acceptable nor official and they wanted to deliver the chairs another day.  After a bit of arguing, they decided that the copy would work after all.   I signed it and dated it to make it legitimate, per their request.   They brought in the chairs and then handed me THREE copies of the original receipt that they were holding and asked for my signature!   Apparently, they needed to see that WE had the same receipt to prove our identity before delivery.   Our guard and driver are both bothered that we didn't know the system and they don't understand why we need more chairs anyway, since there are only two people who live in the house.  

Case 7 - In my quest to have a clean home, we have used too much bleach.  I was told to purchase another gallon of bleach when I go out and that we were using TOO much; therefore it was going to be very expensive to purchase more.  (So, there!)  Clorox is my new best friend and I am happy to add it to my shopping list.  In fact, I am thrilled to take stock in this product and to have a large supply on hand for everyone.  

Case 8 - The painter arrived to start on the office upstairs.  He was disturbed since we hadn't ordered enough paint.  Who knew that two gallons for a SMALL room was less than HALF of what we needed? I have placed an order for three more gallons, which will take 2-3 days to arrive.  The holes that were in the wall also did not get repaired.  I shouldn't worry since he will repair the wall AFTER the painting is complete.   This disturbs me more than the painter.  

Case 9 - Midway through the day, we had a little 'incident' with the car.  I had gone out to the vegetable stand (no onions today) and to Casino, our local grocery.  When we returned, the guard only held one side of the heavy gate.  The other side was caught by the wind and did some minor damage to the side of the car.  They were disturbed at the situation and suggested a different type of gate.  I think that we'll come up with another solution, since I am disturbed at this too.  

Case 10 - A few weeks ago, our pool pump started spewing water.  There have been MANY arguments (yelling) between the pool guy, the guards, the drivers, etc about the broken cap to the pump... with the words, "His tongue no speak truth" occurring often amidst requests for me to settle the 'score'.  Today, the pool guy came and was very disturbed that the madam did not have the right cap YET.  Thankfully someone showed up later in the afternoon explaining that they could not find the correct cap, so they fabricated a new one - which fit perfectly.   In full disclosure, there still is a small leak, but they intend to fix it with some string tomorrow. :)   I am totally amazed and appreciative of the work that went into creating a new cap, so I praised the guy who made it and thanked him.  I was rewarded with a "Thank you Mommy".  :)  Obviously, as the madam of the maison, I am everyone's 'mommy' - when they are not disturbed at me.  When they are pleased, we are all one big happy family!  
**It's so interesting that the pool guy comes with his equipment on a motorcycle.  

Case 11 - After discussing dinner plans this morning, I went to the store (mentioned earlier) to get the ingredients needed.  At 2pm, our COOK explained that she had too much to do and didn't have time to do dinner.  She is disturbed that we like to eat - every single night - and it is a lot of work for her to prepare.  I really don't know where to go for this one, since she is PAID to clean and cook.  However, there are too many people around, too much work and we STILL want dinner.  We are disturbing the schedule a LOT!  I obviously need to pitch in and do more around the house!  We compromised and came up with something simple that we could complete together.  

In all seriousness, I have to remember that this is a big change for the staff as well as for me.  They had a routine and we have upset it with our new routine.  Our requirements are different (not better or worse, but different) from the prior people living here.  I can only imagine that where we see dirt and chaos, they see excess and luxury - and it's hard to wrap my brain around sometimes.  We are humbled and thankful for this help, and yet we are expected to 'contribute' to the local community through employment.  I am also reminded that there is nothing too trivial to throw away and that everything has a use, far beyond what I can see.  Most days, I have a choice of how to respond to this craziness and it needs to be a conscious choice.  I've decided that it's much better to see the humor in things and choose to laugh rather than cry.  And this stuff is just hard to make up.   It helps to share our experiences for a little therapy too!  

And by the way - this is only ONE day's disturbance.  ALL of the above took place within a few hours, and I'm sure that it will continue tomorrow.  

And for those of you who are laughing, we have an invitation.  Come on over to central Africa and join us on this crazy journey.  We'll leave the light on for ya! 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Recently, we were invited to meet one of Charles' co-workers  at a 
bush bar restaurant overlooking the Wouri River in Douala.   
As newcomers, we don't turn down many invitations.  

Paquebot (pronounced Pa-cky Bo) is renowned among the expats and located right near the port.  

Bienvenue - Welcome for those of us who need translation.     

A hand-washing station was located
right beside the entrance to rinse our hands - with SOAP.  
We were on the 'air-dry' or 'shake' system to dry our hands though.       

The bush bar had an inner area along with an outside section on the sand.  
Due to the light rain, the outdoor portion was empty.    

We had an option to eat at the restaurant or to order our food for 'take-away'.   
Since it was a Sunday afternoon and the other guest 
wasn't eating, we chose to 'take-away' and have dinner at home.  

There was no menu.  

So we simply choose whatever was on the grill.  
I am not big on fish with all the parts looking at me, so we chose the gambas.  
 Gambas are prawns which are caught locally in the Wouri River and Cameroon is famous for them.   Prawns differ from shrimp in three main ways.  Prawns have bigger legs with claws on three pairs of legs, where shrimp only have claws on two pair of legs.   (Both have 10 legs).  Prawns are usually larger and reside in fresh water like rivers.  Shrimp are caught from salt water and are typically smaller than prawns.   The terms 'shrimp' and 'prawn' are often (mistakenly) used interchangeably, with 'prawns' simply defining larger shrimp.  
Our prawns are cooking at the back of the grill.  
From the outer deck, we could watch the fisherman right off the beach.  
This fellow (L'homme) was trying to sell gambas from the sand and calling out to us on the deck.  The bush bar happily cooks for anyone willing to pay a small charge. For our gambas, we paid 10,000 cfa (Central African Francs) for our small  bag (about $18 USD) and 1,000 cfa (less than $2) for the ladies to cook the food.  
The vendor didn't sell the gambas, so he is off to find another customer.  
I wonder how long he has been carrying these around?  
These ships were close into port.  
The two on either ends are both Tidewater ships.  
We'll have to come back on a prettier weather day to enjoy sitting on the deck.    
When we opened our "take-away" package at home, 
we were pleasantly surprised to find french fries 
And plantains
and some sort of hot sauce. 
           It had an unusual, strong smoky flavor and it was set-your-mouth-on-fire HOT.                         African red chilies - NOT on my recommended list.   
Fresh gambas with onions, tomatoes and peppers. Yum!
Charles graciously peeled the gambas for us 
and we had a wonderful dinner at home.  
I am functioning a bit out of my comfort zone with the food in general, just from the perceived cleanliness and sanitation viewpoint, but I know this will get better. 
However, this meal was something we'll definitely repeat.  
 While the fries were only passable, we agreed that the plantains 
and prawns were absolutely fantastic.  

We'll definitely go back for gambas! 

Bon Appetit! 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Just a Bump in the Road

We are fortunate to live only 10 minutes away 
from Charles' work location in Douala 
on a no-traffic day 
in the sunshine 
with both fingers crossed.    

Actually the mornings are very nice and it only takes Charles about 20+ minutes 
to get to work.  Of course, he leaves about 6:30 am or so, which helps.  
He has his smoothie in the car and starts checking emails  
on the way - so it's even productive time.  
 (Yes, he has a driver to take him to and from work....) 

However, in the evenings, it has taken as
 long as 3+ hours for him to get home.  

The problem is that there is only one way into the port area where his 
offices are located - and only one way out.  

They have been doing construction and it's the rainy season, so there are potholes.  

Not little potholes, but potholes where you could possibly get lost!  

He had described the road to me, but on Saturday, 
he wanted for me to experience it first-hand.  

It was definitely an experience - 
and the motorcycle taxi driver shown above, agrees.  :) 

Thankfully we drive an SUV and just go right through the water - 
but I have to admit that these are the worst potholes I have ever seen.  

And some of these potholes even have currents!

In the evenings when Charles leaves work, there are often 
disabled trucks and cars stalled in the water and a huge line 
of vehicles trying to make their way down the road.  

Sometimes the lines are so long and so many vehicles stalled
 that the traffic just stops completely.  There is absolutely no way out
 and no other option but to sit and wait.  
The driver told me that this was a good day, decent roads, 
not as much water as before and it was a quick trip into the port.   
I am glad that I didn't experience this on a BAD day!    
Welcome to a third world country during rainy season! 

In most parts of the world, these would not even be considered roads.  
However in central Africa, people just press forward with whatever 
conditions they have in front of them.  

After a few turns, the road conditions improved a bit.      

Even with less water, it is still a pretty bumpy ride!  

The back of this truck reads, "God's Time is the best".   
This is good to remember especially when you are sitting and waiting... 

The road clears finally as we pass the Dangote Cement Factory.
This road runs beside the Wouri River right into the port.  
As we enter the office and warehouse areas, 
the security guards are waiting to open the gate. 
We are getting close...
Here's the Tidewater office and warehouse - 
or Pan Marine as it is called in Cameroon.  
This is the main office entrance.  
Walking in, it felt like I was walking onto a ship, especially 
seeing the dark glossy wood and the very steep 'ships' staircase. 
The first office to the right is the Port Captain.  
The photograph shows the President of Cameroon.  
It is common for his picture to hang in every office building in the country.  

Maps and Charts for the Port Captains...

Even the hallways resemble ships - along with a ship's bell.

 I like the pole to the left with holes in it as 
we move into the area where Charles spends lots of his time. 
His office has a glossy ceiling, which helps to cover up the termite damage.  
There's another picture of the President of Cameroon in the left corner.   
He also has a lot of maps on his wall.   This may be why he would do 
well in the Amazing Race or a trivia contest!  :) He's the one to ask 
if you want to know where any country in the world is located. 
 I know this because I ask him often! 
 No,  he doesn't wear shorts to work.  We were there on Saturday afternoon. 

 This map shows (more or less) the areas the office covers. The leases for the oil fields are outlined on the map as well.   The Gulf of Guinea is the area from Gabon to Ghana.  So, if you hear on the news that the Gulf of Guinea has had another pirate attack, you'll know exactly where to look.  
We live about an inch above where the "C" in Cameroon is shown above. 
 Afrique   -   Afrika   -   Africa
(French) (South African Afrikaans) (English)   
The equator runs through part of the green section.  From West to East, the line runs through Gabon, The Republic of Congo, The DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), Uganda, Kenya and Somalia.  We live only 4 degrees above the equator in Cameroon. 

One of the many Tidewater ships.  This is a PSV - Platform Supply Vessel 
Additional Supply vessels 
I thought this wood carving was really well done.  
There are panic buttons on all of the walls.  
If one is pushed, the main siren goes off.  
I just found this intriguing - just like on a ship.  
We have panic buttons in our homes too.  :) 
The rail line runs parallel to the port.  
 When traffic is bad, this is the area that you want to cross quickly.  
The last curve in the road before leaving the port area.  
And we are back on the main road.  You can see the terminal on the right.  
On a side note, every time I see one of these moto/trucks from the back, it reminds me of the Amish in Pennsylvania for just a minute.  :) 
And I promised a side view of the Bentsikins - moto/taxis - 
with the umbrella on top. Doesn't it look like a long baseball cap?  
The ingenuity is just incredibly impressive!