16 January 2010

My narrative drive…

…is in decline. I don’t know why, but I don’t feel like writing anything extended or coherent, so I’ll post some pictures and write some blurbs instead.


I ate Christmas dinner with my former trainer Elvis and his family. Most Cameroonians are not indifferent to photos. They either are very excited that you have a camera and want to take many pictures with you, or they are convinced that cameras are soul-trapping devices that can be used to put curses on you via the local witch doctor. Elvis and his wife are in the first category of people, as you can see. Just today, I had a 20 minute photo op session with a farmer in his fields of hot peppers and tobacco. Then, sitting at the local bar/beigneterie/MSG store, I had someone come up and show me two pictures that he had taken of me and his family when I went to visit his cacao plantation. That is the endearing side of pictures and the Cameroonians who love them. On the other side is the motorcycle taxi driver who took a bunch of pictures at the Celine Dion dance party that I mentioned in a previous post. Then, months after all was forgotten, he pulled up to me and my friend Lauren, and showed us the photo album of the party that he had gotten printed (at a considerable cost) and carries around with him AT ALL TIMES.


This is a drum circle at a funeral that I attended for my host father’s mother, who died in 2001. Funerals are a grand affair here, put on years after the person dies. The family will save for years to throw a huge party in the deceased’s honor. By my estimate, this funeral was attended by over 700 people. People like to dress in matching outfits for big events, as you can see in this picture and the picture below of my host mom and sister. Anyway, the drum circle, like many things in Cameroon, is completely backwards from an American drum circle. a) The drummers are in the middle of the circle, and people call/response sing and dance in a tight circle around the drummers. b) The drummers are talented. c) The dancers do not dance in rhythm exactly. Instead they form a complimentary, and at times competitive, rhythm, expressed by metal janglies on their ankles. This makes SDC10828keeping rhythm with them nearly impossible for me, and I have learned to not even try. d) It’s not a bumpin’ drum circle without a PA system. Within minutes of getting going, someone had mic’ed the drum circle and cranked it to 11, which was wholly unnecessary because they were already the loudest thing for miles.. Then, a competing drum circle got started, and a seperate PA system materialized for it in seconds. So one was left with two insanely loud drum circles playing over individual PA systems, audio on full blast and clipping terribly, on top of the Cameroonian pop music playing over the catering company’s PA, on top of 700 people singing or eating and talking. It was a wild time. The drum circles here tend to go on all night which is either a blast or infuriating, depending on how much you want to sleep.

SDC10934 I woke up this morning, made coffee, started walking to the farm, looked up and oh man solar eclipse! I took this picture at 6:45 this morning. It took me a got fifteen minutes to get the aperture, shutter speed, etc… right on my camera to take a direct picture of the sun, but I did manage to get one good picture before the eclipse ended. I guess there was a full eclipse in France, but because of the latitude difference, ours was only partial.

Brush fires have been a regular motif in my days for the last few weeks or so. It’s the height of the dry season and, true to form, it is very dry here. Just how dry? It hasn’t rained a single mL in nine weeks. Just a week or so ago, somebody lit a brush fire RIGHT OUTSIDE my house. I heard it burning and ran outside. I stood there for a few minutes, watching this fire grow and thinking “Oh shit, what do I do, oh shit this is not good.” While I stood there paralyzed, some of my neighbors also saw the fire and ran up and put it out with sisal leaves, and I felt like an utter fool for not having the sense to put a wildfire out while it was small. Then, not more than an hour later, a fire started on the hill next to mine! Not wanting to be the incompetent American again, I rushed to go help put out this fire, which involved a) finding a branch with green leaves b) beating the fire with said branch until it goes out. SDC10928Despite the method’s simplicity, it was quite demanding work, and I was definitely the greenhorn of the fire crew. Cameroonians are COMPLETELY nonchalant about putting out brush fires, and they do so almost at a leisurely pace. The burned landscape above is the aftermath of this fire. As you can see, the fire burns so quick and cool that even grasses with thicker stems survive uncharred. So far, I have heard three stories about how the fires are started, and I’ll repeat them in descending order of probability: 1. Farmers too lazy to clear their feilds. This is almost certainly who has been setting the fires near me. 2. Bored children. 3. The Bororo, a Muslim herding tribe that came from the North a few centuries ago. They’re a favorite punching bag for the dominant Bamelike here, so I was unsurprised to find more than one person blaming the Bororo, even though their settlements are fairly far from here. The accusation has a basis in fact, however; the Bororo do actually set fires to get fresh grass to sprout for their herds. 4. “Le rat – voilà sa troue!” Many people blamed “the rat” for the fires, and then proceeded to point me to where his supposed den is. I think there’s something behind this explanation, but I have yet to figure it out.

EDIT: So I figured out what people were talking about when they said the rat was the cause of the fires... Hunters will set the fires and position themselves downwind so that when the field rats run to escape the fire, they can capture them with hunting dogs. And so the plot thickens in an arson mystery that it seems only I care about here...

So I did my first “animation”, or training session on Monday! I went to Bandrefam, about an hour away, where Julie, an agro volunteer, works with a group that does beekeeping. The beekeeping project was set up by a previous volunteer, and she inherited it. We were going to harvest honey for the first time, but the hives that we worked on had ant and termite problems and were weak as a result, so we didn’t end up harvesting anything. I was quite nervous going into the animation, because it would also be my first time working with the (notoriously aggressive) African honeybee, but everything went fine. We worked at dusk, (no good pictures were taken as a result) and the bees were exceptionally calm. Nobody got stung, even though there were six people in bee suits. It was really great to work with and teach an enthusiastic group of farmers, and I’m excited to work with them again, especially if it means honey.

SDC10978Our oyster mushrooms have started to fruit at APADER! I don’t even like to eat mushrooms, but I love everything else about them. Fungi might be my favorite kingdom, if I was really pressed to pick one. The spawn strain and the training for this project were provided by the World Agroforestry Center, and this is the first production run that APADER (the NGO I work for) has made. The culture medium is a sterilized mixture of sawdust, ground corn, and lime. After the fungus completely colonizes this substrate, the mushrooms poke through the bag, as seen below.. Above is a picture of a (slightly over)developed mushroom, a warm-weather subspecies of the oyster mushroom found all over the US. I’ve been reading a ton about mycology, and I’m extremely excited to learn and experiment with this cultivation system.


SDC10886 Somebody that deserves special mention on my blog is my friend Joseph. I met him on the first day that I moved to town, and he has been a saint to me ever since. He built me mosquito screens for my windows, tells me when somebody is trying to rip me off, and has been a wonderful friend in general. On top of that, he speaks passable English, which helped me navigate the first few rough weeks at post. Thank you Joseph Kenfack.

A pretty morning with some clouds rolling over the mountain I live on…



The elusive hornbill again, at least this time in profile, but still blurry. I’ve had some amazing bird sightings in the last month. These have included an African cuckoo that I observed for a good twenty minutes, calling and eating caterpillars off of trees (they are quite rare in these parts). I also saw a hornbill perched no more than ten feet away. Other highlights include a pair of yellow white-eyes, an African harrier hawk, yellow-mantled widowbird, and a to-be-determined (and magnificent) woodpecker.

It’s getting past my ten o’clock bedtime, so that’s all for now. I have yet to get a post office box here, so send mail to Yaounde. Mom and dad, I got the package you sent me. All the volunteers in the West are very excited about the cinnamon you sent in such great quantities, and the underwear could not have arrived a minute too soon.

1 comment:

  1. Richard,

    Mushrooms!! We must speak of them! I'm growing portobello mushrooms on the farm in almost the exact same manner. Have you read any Paul Stamets? He's a mycologist on the west coast. He has some great books on mycology. Let me know and I'll send you some of his books. I haven't done much with them but for the future I'd love to try and adapt a fungi specific compost system to develop organic soils for the farm. Morell's grow naturally across the creek from the farm in the woods so I'm hoping that's a sign that our soil and climate conditions are conducive to more extensive fungus cultivation.

    We'll write you soon. I know we've been horrible slugs. You look great in suspenders as always.