Cameroon loves soccer, so Brian and the kids have been playing a lot of soccer since we’ve arrived. Brian plays Friday nights at the compound where we live which has a small soccer field. I’ve posted about the kids soccer club the boys enjoy going to. Eila has joined the soccer team at her school and really enjoys playing. This is her second sport (after volleyball) that she’s joined at the school and she’s had a lot of fun playing both. Here’s a few photos of her playing.
Or is it?
Rainy season returned with lots of storms about a week ago, and the strangest part is that it arrived about one month (or more like 6 weeks) early. Everyone is confused. We’re confused because everyone told us that that rainy season would start at the end of March. Cameroonians are equally confused. Maybe we’re still in for another month of dryness, no one really knows. One thing is for certain — the past week has been very wet.
It even hailed the other day. With Michigan having a lot of snow this year, both Michigan and Cameroon have frozen water falling from the sky — just in slightly different ways.
One big change is the temperature. Dry season is hot. The return of the rains also brings the return of more comfortable temperatures that is very welcome. The mud on the other hand…less so.
Not too long ago, it was required for all expatriate missionaries in our branch to attend what they called “Africa Orientation Course,” which included a 3-week village stay with a family. With more and more people coming and staying in the city, it didn’t make as much sense. So, my first visit to the village was to work, and I’m so thankful that it went really well.
I won’t lie. I was extremely nervous before I left, mostly because I just didn’t know what to expect. I had been told to bring all our water and that the conditions were “rough” and this from a woman who lives with a Cameroonian family currently and is quite at home in African villages. Also, I’m terrified (completely and irrationally so, and only a little ashamed to admit it) of cockroaches, which live quite comfortably and abundantly here in the tropics.
What I found was a welcoming and joyful family and community excited to host us and eager to learn. They had no running water or electricity or good internet connection, but they had a very clean and warm home where they served us delicious food twice a day (with at least two meat options and a hearty starch as well). They showed us various parts of their culture and daily life and were excited to teach us a bit about themselves.
I was in this small village a few hours east of Yaoundé with two other linguists to do the second in a series of workshops to help a language community learn about their language and prepare the ground work for literacy and translation work in the future. We spent most of our time collecting data about nouns and tones, while the participants in the workshop are beginning to grasp that their patois is a real language with a grammar that is very different from the French that they learned in school. This language has 8 noun classes and some of the markers differ only by tone. The plural is formed differently for each type of noun and understanding the grammar of their language (which all speakers know intuitively) helps them to appreciate it and also be able to do translation work later. They are also learning to read and write their heart language as we work on their language together, which they are really excited about.
I’m so thankful for the way God answered all the prayers prayed on my behalf and that of the workshop. It was a huge success.
Next time, I’ll be sure to have pants and long-sleeves to avoid the bug bites. 🙂
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.
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 in it, 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Please pray with us that God will lead the people he has chosen to care of all our young ones during that time.
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.