I honestly can’t believe I’m writing this blog already, less than a week away from heading home, from seeing all my family again and from leaving my life in Yaoundé. This experience has taught me a lot of things, one of them being that humans can adapt to any climate, culture or situation no matter how different it is to those they knew before. I have been here for over 16 weeks now, and I can say that I am completely comfortable squishing myself into the back of a packed taxi as it goes weaving down the street, the back bursting with bunches of plantains and hands hanging out the window to hold onto giant pieces of metal piping that are balanced precariously on top. I can say that I have discovered my love of buying food off the street: grilled corn is my favorite, fresh mandarins, greasy beignets, spaghetti omelettes, black coffee like the Cameroonians do it with plenty of dark honey and lemon, meat skewers, fresh juice and of course, the amazing pineapples and papayas. I can say that I have hiked all seven of the mountains surrounding the city, many of them practically requiring a machete to hack your way through the dense jungle. I have loved getting to know this amazing city and even occasionally seeing people I know waiting in line for a taxi or buying food at the markets. It’s fun to see other Cameroonians’ surprise that an American girl knows people in Yaoundé!
It is definitely strange when I think about leaving a place that now feels like somewhere I live. One of the hardest things to get used to mentally has been the lack of changing seasons, so I really would have no idea what time of year it was, if it wasn’t for my calendar. Sure, Christmas is in 10 days, but here it is scorchingly hot, sunny all day long and the dust hangs in a constant cloud over the city. Hearing Christmas songs blasting in the street or seeing taxis adorned with Christmas ornaments, is a strange contrast to the climate.
We have been spending our last few weeks here frantically trying to do all our favorite things, visit our favorite places, hang out with our favorite people and just soak in the reality of studying abroad here. We have been preparing for our final dinner which we are having with our host family and anyone else who made our time here so incredible. This party requires a full day of preparation, as we each have to choose a Cameroonian dish which we will be cooking after buying all the ingredients at the market. We then have to present our meals and the reasons for our choice. Luckily we have lots of help from our host parents and siblings!
On the day of the party, I got up at 5:45am to go with my host mom, Sandra, to the market near our house. First stop was the man selling chickens. We bought three live chickens and I was happy to hear that the man would kill them for me because a) I have no idea how to kill a chicken and b) I’m not sure I want to know how to kill a chicken. We then spent two hours buying all my other ingredients from various vendors: tomatoes, onions, garlic, various spices to crush at home, carrots, green beans, TONS of plantains and more. I was preparing a dish called Poulet DG (or Poulet Directeur Général) which was a request from my host sisters and which was originally reserved for Cameroonian officials, but is now a crowd favorite. Once home at 9am, we started cooking right away. Cooking here is a process for sure. Even if the actual cooking doesn’t take super long, the preparation takes ages because of processes that we take for granted not having to do in the western world. For example, we had to wash absolutely everything we bought because it is all sold on the ground under the hot sun with flies swarming and people touching it. Since I was cooking for around 40 people, we had bought a lot. After being washed, we had to chop up all the veggies and then re-wash them before I started frying plantains. Fried plantains are one of my new favorite foods, but after yesterday, I’m not sure I ever want to see a plantain again! Butching the chickens was another hurdle as I had never cleaned or butchered a chicken in my life. Sandra showed me on the first one and then decided I had had enough instruction and left me to do the last two. Hopefully I didn’t tear them up too badly! I was surprised by how much strength it took and I was physically exhausted afterwards. We cooked the chicken outside over coals and then mixed it with the various spices, fried plantains and veggies. Sandra also made a fruit salad which is the typical dessert here with the fruit cut into the tiniest possible pieces.
The party itself was a blast. It was so nice to be able to say thank you to our host family, our friends and our professors who made our stay here so memorable. Plus there was lots of delicious food! Arjun made a Melon Seed Sauce which sounds weirder than it is, with fried fish and rice and his host mom, Maman Lisette, made beignets and black beans to start and yellow sauce with taro. The kids all loved running around with my camera, meaning I found a lot of very blurry photos! The whole experience of preparing a Cameroonian dish really showed me the differences between cooking here which takes an entire day and cooking in the states which usually doesn’t take more than an hour. It made me appreciate all the dishes that my host family or Arjun’s host family has prepared for us over the semester because I know how difficult and taxing it is! We have really met some incredible people here. Now (sadly) on to our very last few days here in Cameroon!