You think that just because it’s already happened, the past is finished and unchangeable? Oh no, the past is cloaked in multicolored taffeta and every time we look at it we see a different hue.
Three days. Thousands of people. Copious amounts of beer. Hours of dancing. Relentless drum beats. While these sounds like ingredients for a music festival, they actual describe the funeral of the second-class-chief of Njinikom, who passed away about two weeks ago. A second-class-chief is extremely important and respected in Kom culture, which was evident in the wake of his death.
I have been to many funerals during my time here, but none have come close to the magnitude of this one. I was unable to attend the first two days of rituals, but nothing could have prevented me from being in attendence on the third day. This is when the jujus came. Jujus from all over Kom were there, including those from the palace, where the Fon (chief) of all of Kom lives.
Jujus are a bit difficult to describe, especially since there are many different “types.” An insufficient description of them is that they are masked dancers, belong to secret societies, are said to have supernatural powers, and are always in attendence at funerals to aid in the departure of the dead. There are an immense amount of rituals surrounding jujus, so I was greatful to run into my friend Immaculate and her friend Marvin at the death celebration as they helped guide me and my friends through the traditions.
If you ever find yourself in the North West of Cameroon at a death celebration in Kom, there are a few things you should know about jujus…
- They don’t like the color red. Avoid wearing it.
- If you are a lady, do NOT wear pants. This is seen as extremely disrespectful, and jujus don’t like it.
- If the jujus won’t leave you alone (ie. keeping hitting you with sticks), give them some small change and they’ll leave you alone.
- If you see people running away from an approaching juju, either run with them or squat and bow. Personally I am terrified of these types of jujus so I choose to run.
- Don’t touch them. Not cool.
- Only men can be jujus. Sorry, ladies.
- No one is supposed to know who they are. Even the wife of a juju should be unaware of her husband’s role as juju.
- There are a few jujus you are not allowed to take pictures of. Not wanting to accidently take pictures of something I wasn’t supposed to at this funeral, I handed my camera off to a Cameroonian friend to take photos.
- They wear ankle bracelets of some sort of dried shell. While dancing these anklets not only make fantastic noises, but are said to help stomp the spirit of the dead out of the ground.
- There are many, many things you’ll never be allowed to know about jujus.
I was so grateful to have Immaculate and Marvin by my side during the death celebration. They taught me so many amazing things about Kom tradition during the three hours we spent together, including some traditions that have been abandoned in the modern age.
One of these traditions is specific to a certain juju, who still exists, but plays a much different role today than in the past. This juju is wildly respected - As soon as he entered the compound everyone lowered their head and stopped talking, as it is supposed to be silent in his presence. In the past, if you had done something wrong, say killed someone, on the day of a large death celebration like this one you’d be looking over your shoulder for him all day. This is because on these types of days, this juju used to kill one person who had committed a terrible crime, spill their blood on the ground, and walk over it as he entered the compound. This practice has not taken place for many years, but is still ingrained in this juju’s identitiy.
While most of the jujus at the celebration just performed dances and rituals, there are a few who can be a bit violent and will hit you fairly hard with a large wooden stick or open hand if you are too close to them or not showing the proper respect. As long as you are respectful to these jujus you shouldn’t have a problem.
If you’re disrespecting a juju, in my humble opinion, you’re an idiot because not only will the juju retaliate, so will all of his juju friends and angry bystanders. One man on this particular day decided to hit a juju with a stick, and instantly was surrounded by a group of angry men. As you can probably guess, this did not end well for him.
All day at this “cry die” I was constantly in awe of what a vibrant, unique, and strong culture I have the opportunity to live in and learn about. This group of people has managed to keep their culture alive despite outside influences, and I feel truly blessed that I am allowed these amazing glimpses into their traditions.
(Pictures to come.)
I have so much to look forward to in these coming weeks/months that I felt compelled to make a list of what’s to come:
- Last week a second-class-chief died in my village. His burial is going to be this upcoming Saturday, and it is going to be bananas. The Chief of all of Kom is even sending his jujus (masked dancers) from the palace for the burial. While it sounds terrible to say that I am looking forward to this burial, burials here are pretty awesome and this one is bound to be the largest celebration I’ve yet to see.
- Limbe! I’m going back to the beach (fingers crossed) mid-May to meet up with some friends for a couple of days before heading to…
- Yaounde! I have meetings for Diversity Committee the 16th and 17th of May in the capital. While going to Yaounde for long periods of time is stress-inducing, a short trip is just wonderful. I’ll get to eat fantastic food, enjoy hot showers, and see a lot of friends who I haven’t seen in months.
- At the end of May my ‘social group’ is renting out a hotel for an end-of-the-school-year-party. They told me to be prepared to dance until 3 in the morning…
- June 1st I’ll be officially wrapping up and completing my reproductive health club project.
- June 5th I have a meeting in Yaounde again for Peer Support Network
- And saving the best for last…. Eric is coming to visit! He will be arriving in Cameroon June 8th and staying until July 8th. I cannot wait to spend this next month or so planning for his trip, which is going to be just wonderful and incredibly refreshing. We’ll visit my village, check out some waterfalls, go to the beach, and spend a week in the jungle. I seriously cannot wait.
While some days here can be pretty rough, all and all I am a pretty lucky lady.
It is positively insulting how well the world functions without one. While the traveler has been away questioning his most basic assumptions, life has continued sweetly unruffled.
Last Saturday I had a follow up meeting with the teachers involved in my reproductive health club project. After fantastic participation at the two-day training workshop with these teachers in February, I had high hopes for this meeting. Unfortunately, my expectations were not met.
First of all, only 12 of my 20 teachers showed up to the meeting. Two of the missing eight had legitimate excuses for their absence, but the others didn’t even bother to inform me that they would not be coming. In addition to the poor attendance for the meeting, the woman running the meeting with me decided to show up an hour late to a three hour meeting. I was not a happy camper to say the least, especially considering the fact that I turned downa trip to London and Ireland because I felt it was very important for me to keep this meeting. Hindsight.
But I am being a bit misleading as the meeting was not a complete failure. I gave a lesson to the 12 teachers on Hepatitis, which they asked me to do at our workshop in February. All the teachers were really grateful that I remembered to research about the virus (as I really didn’t know too much about it myself) and give the lesson, which was reassuring that I am at least doing something right.
Plus, the seven of the ten schools represented at the meeting had fantastic reports on how the clubs were running in their schools. The teachers told us that their students were extremely interested in the clubs, to the point where some had to turn away members because the clubs were just getting too big to handle properly. All of the teachers also said they wanted to expand the clubs outside of the school walls and into the community.
So while I was rather disappointed with the turnout of teachers and lateness of my fellow trainer, I was also so happy to hear that the clubs were actually running and functioning well in the schools.
I have one final meeting with the teachers on June 1st to collect student pre and post tests to measure how well the information was taught, to do a final program evaluation, and to plan for the future. While I am leaving at the end of this year, the woman I am working with on this project just received a grant to continue and expand the project into the next school year!
So all in all, Saturday was no doubt frustrating, but far from a complete waste. The teachers that came to the meeting were excited about what they have been doing and really gave me hope for the future of this project.
I didn’t want my last post for now to be a downer, so I thought I’d share one of my new favorite recipes. There isn’t a whole lot of variation in my diet here, so it is always nice to find something new to make with what I have available to me.
2 cups cooked beans
1 cup cooked rice
1/2 cup flour
1/2 t. salt
pepper to taste
seasonings (I use the suggested garlic, cayenne, ginger, basil, and onion)
Combine ingredients and let stand 30 minutes to one hour. Form into patties and fry. Makes about 8 patties.
While there is no bread in Njinikom to eat these tasty burgers on, they are still quite a welcome addition to my diet.
The month of April has been a rough one to say the least. I often stray away from writing any sort of negative blog post for a couple of reasons. First of all, I know people worry about me enough already without broadcasting my daily struggles to the world on my blog. Secondly, I don’t want to complain about something and then have 15 people sending me e-mails that I should just come home. Finally, for most of you I am probably the only real connection to Cameroon you’ll ever have. That places a lot of responsibility on me to describe Cameroon in a fair light, which I don’t want to jeopardize with a rant about a random, isolated experience that doesn’t reflect Cameroon as a whole. I’m prefacing this post with this because I don’t want anyone to excessively worry about me or send pleas for my return. Rough days/weeks/months happen no matter where you live, and I think the bad days here have been just as important for me, if not more important, as the good days.
This month I’ve had a few of my closest friends in the whole world go through some pretty terrible situations. While I don’t feel like it is my place to give out names and what has been going on with these individuals, the things that have happened lately are not the kinds of problems that can be solved over a pint of Ben and Jerry’s (or beer for that matter). While I love traveling and exploring the world, I really hate the fact that I can’t be there for my friends right now the way that I would like to be. Sending e-mails and letters is about the best I can do right now, and that just doesn’t cut it. Work has been a bit sleepy lately too, which makes it easy to question what I am doing here when I have friends and family back home I miss and want to be with.
I can’t imagine after my time in Cameroon that I’ll stop wanting to travel. I absolutely love engaging with a culture completely different than my own. We live in such a diverse, amazing world, and I want to see more of it. At the same time though, I want to be there for my friends and family for both the good and bad times. The people you love and care about are what really make life worthwhile. I just need to figure out how to get a job that allows me to see the world and my loved ones, which is a bit of a conundrum.
So to everyone at home - I love you and miss you all immensely, and I wish I could be around to really take part in your lives. To those going through rough times currently, I wish I could be there more for you now than I can be. I’m thinking about everyone at home all the time and I can’t wait to reunite in Chicago in about 7 or 8 months and make up for lost time!