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.

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:

Are You Settling In?

This is a question that we get asked a lot, either by other missionaries that we work with or those who live nearby.   And my default response is always, “Yes, we are.  Things are good”.

In some ways it’s true.  I said to someone else recently that life here now is strangely normal.  The sights and sounds, the street vendors, the way traffic flows — it’s all starting to seem normal and expected.  The daily schedules: making breakfast, getting Eila to the bus on time, walking to work, getting dinner ready and the homework done.  It’s all normal and the same routines we had back in Michigan, just in a different setting.

But are we settling in?  I’m not sure how to answer that.  What does it mean to settle in?

Will I feel settled in when I can have a conversation in French more fluidly? Will I feel settled in when I have Cameroonian friends I can visit and who visit me?

I felt comfortable during the end of our time in France.  I wouldn’t feel aprehension having to walk into a store and ask for something in French, I knew my way around, and there was an ease to our daily life there.  But I wouldn’t say I felt “settled”, or at home.

And I’m definitely not there yet in Yaoundé.

But will I ever feel at home while I’m away from home?

We’ve adopted a family motto that states “Home is Where We Are”.  Our home is here, but our home also not.  Not yet.

Driving Timelapse

I posted a shorter version of this video to Instagram, but I think the entire thing is interesting.  This drive is between our house and my daughter’s school.  I started the video not too long after crossing the main roundabout near our house.  It’s sped up, but you can still get an idea of what this part of the city looks like.

Also interesting is that is begins to really rain about halfway through the video — and you can see folks running to get under something to stay dry.  Cameroonians really don’t like to be out in the rain (who does?).

The video seems to slow down later, but that’s just us getting into traffic.

Je suis calée

The area where we live has a number of bars in nearby and there is also a large hotel across the road that plays loud karaoke into the night.  So, even though we’re set back from the main road a bit, it can be a bit loud in the evening (the karaoke crowd likes Celine Dion).  But subconsciously, we are all becoming familiar with Cameroonian pop songs — even if we aren’t actively seeking them out.  They get pumped into our heads as we sleep, or try to sleep.

This particular song has played frequently at night and I started recognizing it often as I was at the grocery store and other contexts.  And now I can share it with you all — try listening to it as you fall asleep.

Also noteworthy is its interesting uses of cam franglais: lyrics like “Est-ce que tu know que je t’aime” is strangely appropriately Cameroonian, as well as the general mix of languages throughout the song.

(Disclaimer — I’ve attached the music video, and while it doesn’t contain anything you can’t put on youtube, it is a music video and therefore might not be appropriate for everyone).  Click “Continue reading…” (if you see it) to continue to the video.

Continue reading

Hello, Lizard

Last week, I had to investigate a network problem on the campus.  The school where the boys attend wasn’t able to connect to the rest of the campus network.  There are little boxes with networking equipment attached to various buildings and inside random offices, so my first order of business was to check that all the cables were still attached and the network equipment was operating correctly.

So I make my way over to school — it’s a short 5 minute walk.  I find the network cupboard and I open it.  The inside looks like this:

Immediately a small lizard starts running around inside scared that his hiding place has been discovered and there is a human at his obvious exit point.  Eventually, I am able to shoo it away and I can begin to continue my investigation.

Watch out for lizards, folks.

Small Money (ou La Petite Monnaie)

In Cameroon it’s best to have small money (or in French: la petite monnaie).

This means, you should have 100 CFA coins, 500 CFA coins/notes, and 1000 CFA notes available all the time for your purchases.  This is because many merchants just don’t have the change to give you.

Shannon and Eila went to the local store down the street to buy some flour and a few treats.  Two kilos of flour and a Sprite were 1200 CFA.  Eila paid with a 2000 CFA note, but shop keeper didn’t have sufficient change for her.  Well, what happens now?

This happens often.

In this case, as if often the case, the solution is to buy more or less until an appropriate amount of change is reached for the shopkeeper/cashier.  In Eila’s case, we bought a roll of toilet paper to bring our change to what the shopkeeper had available and everything was fine.  There have been other cases where if a grocery store order brings the total to 10,150 CFA — items are not purchased to make it  so change can be made.

Taxi rides to a destination that is nearby is just 100 CFA or maybe 150 CFA.  But if you don’t have exact change, you’re expected to tell the driver as you get in.  He might not take you if he doesn’t have change.

In my western mind, it always seems odd that transactions are not made to ease the exchange of change, but that’s how things are.

So, in Cameroon, it’s best to have small money.