Saturday, December 05, 2009

Cameroon: Getting Into It For Real

Wednesday, September 16th

The small tractor was fixed, so I was looking forward to not hammering nails. I had taken some pain killers in the morning so that I could get through the day with minimal troubles.

“Brian went back to hammering nails and Dad taught me how to use the smaller tractor to move sand piles. Soon I was on my own while he worked on the generator.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

I had fun learning to coordinate my hands so that the bucket operated smoothly. The hardest part was trying to pick up sand and get as close to the bottom of the pile as possible without scooping up dirt along with it. I'm afraid that the ground wasn't even close to level and I was highly unsuccessful in keeping the dirt out of the sand. However, I hope I didn't have too much contamination. At one point I disturbed a driver ant colony, so I worked in another area for awhile. The last thing I wanted was to have them attacking the tractor to get at me.

You laugh? You've never encountered driver ants then. You wouldn't laugh if you had!

"For supper we had real fufu. A lady brought the fufu in little bags along with njama-njama and properly cooked plantains. It was so good! I finished mine and then took the second half of Brian’s. And yes...I ate with my fingers.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

Talk about heaven. Real Cameroonian food using real palm oil. For those not in the know, njama-njama is like spinach, but has a more bitter taste. The reason I ate with my fingers is because that's how you eat fufu. In some areas they stipulate that you only use the first two fingers and you never eat with your left hand anywhere since that's the hand you use for unclean things. (Sorry lefties.)

The reason I took the second half of Brian's helping is not because I'm greedy or unfeeling. According to my husband, fufu is an acquired taste. The kind we had is made from cornmeal mixed quickly with boiling water and a little salt to a play-dough consistency. Bland is the word often used.

But think about it. Mashed potatoes are bland too and it's a matter of what you're accustomed to and what you eat it with. So I could hardly let good fufu go to waste. Brian had his taste and was fine with that, so I finished it off for him.

Thursday, September 17th

“We were joined by a newcomer named Lendl. He’s been working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and decided to use his vacation time to visit Cameroon.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

We were expecting Lendl to join us and he had arrived late the night before, after I had already gone to bed. It was nice to have another addition to our little group. Since Dad and I had each other, Brian and Lendl were buddies.

“I drove the tractor again. Finished the sand pile as well as could be expected. Then I learned how to fill and compress a ditch.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

You'll notice that I've skipped a few days right here. That's because I've made it a different post. So you'll have to read the next one too. A little 101 Arabian Nights strategy for you.

Tuesday, September 22nd

“The men were already in the middle of putting up a rafter when we got there. The guys helped with the next one and sent me running for a camera. I sat and watched as they hoisted two more up then began sliding them into place and bracing them. At lunch time we were invited to join them for lunch and had fufu, njama-njama, and chicken.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

Wow! That was incredible to watch the guys putting up those rafters. I've had the privilege of watching a really good crane operator place I-beams on a construction site and it's like watching ballet. This raising of the rafters was all about brute strength and total teamwork instead. There were 20 men doing the lifting, 2 men on the roof with ropes, 2 at the other end on rafters already raised (also with ropes), a man on each wall, and one man directing it all.

They estimated that each rafter weighed about a ton and this is how it was done. First off, the job of the guy directing it all wasn't just to tell them how to do it, but to coordinate their efforts. So, when everyone was ready, they would bend over to prepare to lift. The director said, in a deep and booming voice, "Brrrujjay, brrrujjay, one time, Go!" At "go," they would all lift together.

First they would lift one end up onto the wall and push it far enough out to free the other end up. The other end would then be lifted up onto the opposite wall and they would all be standing holding the rafter in a flat position, ends on the walls, with boards. After nudging the rafter down next to the last one raised, they would switch to longer boards in order to raise it into a vertical position. Each effort was coordinated with the same cry from the director. "Brrrujay, brrrujay, one time, Go!"

When they had them all vertical together at one end, they began taking them one by one across. Each one positioned so that they were spaced correctly for the roof. In order to keep them vertical and move them at the same time, two men would hold long boards crossed for tension against one another.

After lunch I had to quit playing spectator/event recorder and get back to work.

“I moved sand and concrete blocks for the rest of the afternoon.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

Wednesday, September 23rd

“The guys finished installing the rafters and I moved a pile of gravel. It took me all day.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

Thursday, September 24th

“Today I did something different. It began to rain as soon as we got there, so we found different jobs. I started helping nail plywood onto the ceiling of one of the first buildings. The scaffolding was a little high for me so I had to hunch over a little bit. And it took 3 or 4 panels to figure out how to hammer up without bending most of the nails.”  (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

It's quite different hammering nails on a ceiling when one is used to doing it facing the other direction. It didn't help that the hammer was a little too heavy for me as well. All the ones that have been donated to the project are for men. We ladies usually need something a little lighter. However, I made it work.

That evening I got to go shopping!

“An artisan brought his goods and Barb had him set up in an empty apartment. Carvings, paintings, jewelry, and such.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

He had some wonderful things and I was able to get a few gifts to take home as well as a little something for myself.

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