The Aroma of Dry Season

I have always loved the smell of fall in Michigan.  And the scent of spring after a long and cold winter is a gift.  So, I’ve sort of known that seasons have their own smell, but I didn’t realize how distinctive they can be.

Yaoundé has two seasons: dry and rainy, which some might choose to label as the dusty or muddy seasons instead.  At the end of the rainy season someone mentioned that although dry season was coming soon, it wasn’t here yet.  They could tell by the smell.  It didn’t smell like dry season, so it hadn’t yet arrived.   I was surprised that the smell of the season would be so distinct and suddenly change the season, but just a few days later, I understood.

We are now in dry season and there is dust everywhere.  Harmattan is what I kept hearing people refer to, and the haze of dust that fills the air and settles on everything is here with it’s very distinct taste and aroma.  I’m not exactly sure how to describe it other than dry with a bit dustiness.  Those who have experienced this season before think of the smell as familiar, but for me it’s new and distinct.

A plant during dry season

I don’t know which season I prefer yet.  There are nice things about the dry season, like how quickly clothes dry in the sun and the various flora and fauna that appear at this time of year.  As for which season creates more mess from the boys playing outside it in, there is no clear winner here either.  I honestly don’t think it matters; our kids can get exceptionally dirty in any and every season.  And, they can track their mess into the house anytime of year!

Someone washed just one foot so we could compare.

Venturing Out

We took a brief vacation to the beach between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  It was our first time outside the city limits to explore a bit of this amazing country where we live.

Our view for the 4-hour drive

The rainforest was beautiful and immense.  And, it went right up to the coastline.  God answered our prayers and we had a super smooth trip.  We were surprised by the humidity difference and really appreciate the elevation that we live at in Yaoundé.  Some other surprises included the power of the tide and the warmth of the ocean water, which Eila described as bathwater.  We only lost a few toys (and no glasses!) to the current.

Sea Turtle Returning to the Sea

While we spent most of the time in the water, we also played some games, read books and did a few puzzles.  We did a little touristy excursion as well and visited one of only three fresh water waterfalls in the world to fall directly into the ocean.  It was a gorgeous place and we were able to walk in the falls a little, but it was super slippery and some of us did a little swimming accidentally as well.  Fortunately, no one was swept away.

Josiah at the waterfalls (Les Chutes de la Lobé)

We all enjoyed seeing a wide variety of sea life thanks to the hard-working fishermen.  Thad was very sad to see a crab stuck in a net, but he did not seem to mind too much when we ate lots shrimp and fish for dinner each night.

Petting A Sea Anemone

Thad learning about Fiddler Crabs (les crabes violonistes)

Swimming in December

One of the activities planned at the boys’ school during the month of December was the gym class going swimming.  Since December through March is the hottest time of the year here (well, it’s hot all year, just extra hot during those months) it’s the perfect time for the classes to have swimming lessons.

The elementary kids were put into classes of varying level and sent to local pools around town with parents helping to teach the strokes and the skills.  It was fun for the boys, even if it made the days tiring.

Here are a few pictures:

Lift Your Bottoms to the Lord

The dialects of French and English that are spoken in Yaoundé are very different than the versions of those languages that I speak and understand most easily.  In fact, it is easier for me to communicate with locals here in French than in English.  But, most conversations are navigated very freely and the language employed depends on both parties and their comfort and ability.

Our work environment uses a wide mixture of English and French as well as translators for both.  There are Americans, Canadians, British, and Australians who are all native speakers of different English dialects.  In addition to the many Africans, there are also Koreans, Dutch, Germans, Swiss, Hungarians, and Swedes who speak English as a second language.  And of course there are native French speakers from Canada, France, Switzerland and various African countries.  Then, there are all those who speak French as a second or third language.  The potential of miscommunication abounds as does the need to be flexible.

The MCs for the branch Christmas baquet included an Anglophone (English-speaking) Cameroonian woman and an American man.  The American was the French MC for the evening while  another Francophone (French-speaking) Cameroonian woman translated other English-speakers words into French during the event.  Unfortunately or fortunately for the translator, most of the crowd is fluent in both of these languages and corrected every mistake she made and helped her out when she struggled.

At one point during the Christmas banquet, the English MC said that we should lift our burdens to the Lord and praise Him. She repeated this several times, encouraging us to worship God and lay our burdens before Him because He is able to carry them and He wants us to trust Him with everything because He cares for us.  Unfortunately, I misunderstood her. To me, the word “burden” in Cameroonian English sounds a lot like “bottom.”  I kept wondering why she wanted us to “Lift our bottoms to the Lord.”

 

TAM

Learning about Tense Aspect and Mood (TAM) can be one of the hardest parts of grammar especially in class with a wide variety of African languages.   TAM markers could be different conjugations shown by tone or a different ending, an auxiliary verb, or something else happening with the verb.  These markers can be tricky to identify/distinguish as they vary so greatly between languages and while speakers of a given language know intuitively how to use the different marks of time and duration and reality, they don’t always know how to explain what or why they use different forms in different contexts.

We had a lively TAM discussion in i-Delta complete with several examples from various languages.  Some of these languages have no tenses at all.  Others have at least six different tenses with three different pasts, present and two future tenses.  The examples given in class can really help the students understand how their own languages use TAM. And, also a lighthearted, teasing atmosphere keeps the students engaged throughout the class each day.

Marthe, a woman from Togo, often asks insightful questions and gives good examples from her language, Ewe.  Her use of the name Kofi in her examples has become a running joke in the course.
Here is one example of that.
Kofi ele nu ɗom.
Kofi e-le nu ɗo-m
Kofi 3SG-PROG chose manger-PROG
Kofi est en traine de manger.
Kofi is eating.

Every day we talk about Kofi dancing or Kofi having danced or Kofi going to spit. Kofi gives and follows orders. Kofi has bouts of coughing or Kofi might lick something and be sick. Kofi has brothers and Kofi’s uncle is the chief. Kofi does a lot of things in many languages in our class. There was even a special place for Kofi in some of the final projects.  This is an example from the first section of Marthe’s final project:

Kofi Ƒle azi na kɔdzo.
Koffi acheter-PASS arachide PREP Kodjo
Koffi a acheté l’arachide à Kodjo.
Kofi bought a spider from Kodjo.

Branch Conference Childcare Help

Every spring around Easter our missionary community gathers together for worship, spiritual emphasis meetings, and business meetings. With everyone in meetings there is a huge need for childcare during that time. If you or or others from your church are interested in helping with this need please contact us or Lori Chilton at hr-staffcare_cameroon@sil.org. Please pray with us that God will lead the people he has chosen to care of all our young ones during that time.

Cameroonian Bilingualism

Much like Canada, Cameroon is officially bilingual.  We are living in the French-speaking part of the country and need to communicate in French when we meet people on the street, go to the store or market, and to communicate at work.  But there’s also a lot of English.

Since Yaoundé is the capital, many people are here from all over the country, including many anglophones (I may have written a bit about this in the past).  Part of meeting someone is learning whether they are english or french speaking.  And, since both languages are used by many people, there’s a working assumption that everyone is able to understand both languages.

This leads to some interesting experiences.

To put this in perspective, we have a weekly chapel meeting at our office on Friday mornings.  Recently, one of the Cameroonian directors, who is Francophone, gave the presentation on his department in French.  However, he used a set of powerpoint slides that were entirely in English to go along with his presentation.  He also asked a few of his direct reports to come up and say a few words, some spoke in English and some in French.

It was expected that everyone there could follow along to this mix of languages.

Another colleague noted that on the national newscasts, stories are presented in both languages throughout the program.  However, they are not repeated in each language — instead some stories are presented in English and some stories presented in French.  If you want to hear *all* the news, you need to understand both languages.

Our time in French study has been incredibly useful for getting through daily life here in Cameroon, but sometimes you have to stay on your bilingual toes.

 

Dancing

In our family, we’ve always enjoyed dancing. Lately we have had a lot of opportunities to practice and learn some different dances. The junior class at RFIS (Eila’s school) recently hosted an International Food and Folk Festival. It was a really fun night and we learned dances from various areas of the world – Israel, Latin America, Korea, USA (Virginia), and of course, Cameroon.

CAMBO is the name given to the orientation classes we had upon arrival in Cameroon. One of my favorite sessions was on Cameroonian clothing. During that session, many of our colleagues were eager to show off their traditional clothing styles and in their enthusiasm also showed off their home dances. They showed us how Cameroonians from different regions celebrate through dance. Honestly, it all looked the same to me. I’m clearly not able to distinguish the details in their dancing. (You could look on youtube for dances from Bafia, Sawa, Assiko, Bamiléké, or Makosa to get a taste of the different Cameroonian regions.) Unfortunately, Eila has warned me not to attempt it in public at all, as I am even more incapable of moving in a way that resembles Cameroonian dancing.

As part of i-Delta, the students had some fun events on the weekend and we attempted to teach them some traditional American (country) line dancing as part of one of these afternoons. Line dancing was a completely foreign concept for these African adults. It was quite comical, but all had a great time.  I imagine this is the same in reverse when they watch me attempt their traditional African dance movements.  Thankfully, on both sides, there are no videos of these lessons.

At our new church, the first half an hour is devoted to worshipping God through music. It is sometimes quite lively with whooping and clapping in addition to singing and, of course, dancing. This is my favorite part of the service, and I join in, but no one is watching me, so it’s okay.  However, this week was the end of a month long celebration of thanksgiving for God’s provision and it was the men’s turn.  Now, I’m excited for you to see Brian and the men from our church dancing.

Soccer Saturdays

We are thankful for the community we have here in Yaoundé.  Throughout the fall, the kids have been able to enjoy playing soccer with the other kids that live around us.  It’s been nice to have parents that are willing to run the program, and lots of other kids around to play with.

One of the highlights of the season was a friendly game against a local kids team, Green City.  The game was highly anticipated by the kids, it took place at Eila’s school which has a very nice field to play on with lines, and they wore jerseys and everything.

They ended up tying Green City 1-1.

Here’s a few pictures from the game: