Rainy Season is Back

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.

Large pea sized hail here in Cameroon

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.


Back from the Bush

The main village road

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.

Our host family in front of the kitchen

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.

Working on adding the plural to noun cards that were collected at the first workshop

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.

One evening after dinner, I heard someone teaching two of the women who had been cooking what they learned that day!

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. 🙂

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 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!

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)


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.



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.