Monday, December 10, 2012

Things that still surprise me

1. Sunset and dusk here (gloaming? Is that the word I want? Is that a word?). No one warns you about that when you come to the tropics. The mosquitoes and the heat, sure-- but no one thinks to tell you about nightfall.

For one thing, it's the exact same time, every day, always. At home, the three-month span I've just traversed would have been marked by progressively shorter days; but this close to the equator, there is no external indicator of the calendar year's looming end. I could set my watch by it: 6:00 pm, every day.

For another, the whole thing has come and gone and night descended in about 10 minutes flat. In a country otherwise defined by the desultory heure Africaine, this is the outlier; this is the touch of Germanic efficiency to counterbalance the African narrative of interminable waiting.  The sun in Cameroon, unlike bureaucracy or the pace of development, doesn't drag its feet.

2. The contradiction between the ubiquitous trash here and people's extreme resourcefulness. Let's take this morning as an example. On my walk over to the elementary school, I stopped in the square outside my house to chat with Idi, who runs a small boutique that sells soap, candles, powdered milk, and instant coffee.  A tall, competent man with the delicate scars that mark most Northerners running down his face, he was engaged in skinning a small goat. As he skillfully slid a dull blade along the goat's side, tugging the hide from the inner membrane, he explained that he would eat the goat; the skin would be sold across the border into Nigeria.  As he was thus engaged, his friend drew my attention to a set of children's Storm Trooper footie pajamas. From whence they came, I haven't the slightest idea, but he solemnly suggested that I might be interested in puchasing them from him. He was so sincere, I felt bad laughing, and tried to keep a straight face as I responded that this was clearly a pretty special occasion outfit. I wasn't sure I could find anywhere to wear it around village.  Idi snorted with laughter, twisting a hoof off with a crackle of breaking joint and ligament. His friend eyed me, unsure if I was being sarcastic or if this was my white-man ignorance showing through. "You wear this to sleep in," he explained. Lips twitching, I thanked him for clarifying, but declined the offer-- although I couldn't blame him for trying to make a buck off of the rejected throw-aways Goodwill sends to Africa by the bargeful. 

On the other hand, the road leading from my house to the school-- to anywhere in village-- is so absurdly littered with plastic bags, wrappers, and bits of nonbiodegradable trash, it looks like that advertisement from the 70's where an American Indian stands on the highway letting fall a single noble tear over the state of Mother Earth.  At first this raised my ire, but now I'm not sure the alternatives (bury it? Burn it?) are really much better. This goes, by the way, for trash everywhere; it's just that in the West we have the luxury of letting municipalities cart it away so that we get to forget about our responsibility in destroying natural resources.

Descending from my pulpit, I arrive at 3. The many uses of peanut butter. One time I ate four meals in a row with neighbors and friends, all of which incorporated local plants and peanuts, and all of which were distinct.  For lunch, I had follere, the acidic leaves of the hibiscus plant, in peanut sauce.  For dinner, my neighbor Howa (who is quickly becoming one of my closest friends) and her sister-wife had prepared tasbah, a different leafy green sauteed with peanut sauce and white beans.  Breakfast the next morning, also chez Howa, was Ham Ham, one of my favorite Northern dishes. It is made with dried peanut butter crumbles-- the waste material from the production of peanut oil, and therefore both healthier and bizarrely gummier than any peanut butter I was used to-- cooked in bitter green leaves, redolent with garlic and ginger. If it sounds weird, it is; but it's also meaty and satisfying and kind of addicting. Finally, my friend and community host Mairamou made me dinner: leaves of moringa, a tree good for everything from protein to vitamins to water filtration, cooked in peanut sauce.

1 comment:

  1. Follere is my favorite! Oh, how I miss it. Beautiful post, Laura.