Sunday, January 6, 2013

More Adventures in N'gaoundere

The rebels are still active in the Central African Republic – in fact they took two more towns yesterday.  The rebels are no closer to Bangui, the capital, were last week, but they now occupy two more towns close to Bambari – a town they already held to the east of the capital.  I still don’t hear reports of much fighting between them and the government troops, but people in the area are afraid and many have gone into hiding in forests nearby.  So, I am still in N’gaoundéré.  As you can see from the picture, I am doing well! 

On New Year’s Eve, a bunch of us (from the US and Cameroon) went to Les Falaises.  The word in French means cliffs.  It is an area about an hour from town where there are hills, forests, and, of course, cliffs!  The area makes me think of some parts of Pennsylvania in Aug.  (You have to add the month since it is dry here and warm/hot.)  The forests have different trees and plants, but I enjoyed walking around pretending I was an hour from Pittsburgh!

The main reason we went was because there are ruins of a village where people lived a long time ago.  None of us are archeologists or historians so we didn’t know what things were.  In particular, there were lots of rings of stones – some with one circle of standing stones and others with 2 or 3 concentric circles.  Think Stonehenge, but much smaller – only about 6-12 inches out of the ground.  There were also a lot of grinding stones. 

In that area some people are now building a guest house to encourage tourists to come.  The buildings are round, as are some local houses, but larger so that they make 2 rooms which have in-door plumbing (certainly not the norm for local houses).  Also, local houses have thatched roofs – these had metal roofs which they then covered with thatch.  This makes the roofs last longer and also makes the houses a little cooler (and less noisy in the rain) than they would be with only the metal.

New Year’s Eve all of the missionaries from CAR got together to eat, talk, and drink toasts.  It was enjoyable and has enabled us to get to know each other even better. 

I greatly appreciate that Jackie has organized the short trips and has been willing to introduce me/us to her friends here.  She lived in N’gaoundéré for a year while studying French so she knows the area well and has lots of Cameroonian friends.

Mamoum's Chief
Yesterday, Jackie, 3 Cameroonian friends, and I went to visit the town of Momoum, about 35 km. from N’gaoundéré.  A traditional chief that she knows invited us to see his compound and to share a meal together.  It was a wonderful experience.  A compound is an area with various buildings that are surrounded by a fence of woven straw.  There are sleeping spaces, a kitchen, an office space, a well, and a paillote.  The last is made from poles that support a thatched roof.  We went into the paillote first.  There were rugs on the ground.  The chief has a small platform on which he can sit for official meetings.  While we were there, he leaned upon it.  We all sat on the ground.  Some of us sat with our back against the supporting poles.  When the chief saw Jackie and I doing that, he went into the house and brought out two pillows for us to lean against – to be more comfortable.  We were the only women among about six men.  The women in the household don’t seem to come into the paillote except to bring food and clear the area.

All of the men are Moslem (as are the rest of the chief’s family, of course.)  After we were there for a while (about 1 p.m.), it was time for prayer.  Moslems must make ablutions (wash) before praying.  Then they used the paillote rugs to pray.  We were invited to stay and say our own prayers.  Just before we left, it was again time for the Moslems to pray.  After their prayers, they all sat and said some extra prayers – for peace in CAR and other countries, for our safe travels, etc.  We were asked to add our prayers to those of the group.  The chief explained that we all pray to God and there is only one God. 

As we walked around the compound, we met many of the women who live there.  This is a picture of one with traditional scaring.  She explained that it was usual for young women in her day to make the marks by adding ashes to cuts in the skin.  They considered it a way to become more beautiful.  It was also a sign that the young woman could stand the pain of having it done.  Peers would hound young women who had not had it done.  It seems to be less common today and she told us that she would like to have it undone.  (She asked us if we knew a way to remove the scarring.)  During this conversation, I couldn’t help but think about the popularity of tattooing in the west.  Yes, ours have color, but some of the reasons for getting tattoos seem to be the same as this traditional scarring. 

I was impressed and pleased to see how we were welcomed to the compound.  We thanked the chief and others there as we were leaving.  He said something like, “It is a gift for us to receive you and offer you food.  It is your gift to accept the hospitality and friendship.”  We could use a lot more of this sentiment in the world today!

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