Cooking in Cameroon

When you read the title “Cooking in Cameroon” you probably thought that this would be a blog post about different Cameroonian foods that I have had the opportunity to try while being here, but that’s not quite the approach I’m going to take. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t cook. For example, last year when I moved off-campus, I had to call my boyfriend and have him talk me through scrambling eggs—I really do not cook. In missionary life, it is possible to get away with not cooking by hiring a cook, but it’s definitely not as simple as just going to the closest drive-through and picking up a meal for the family.

One of my goals while being out here was to learn to be able to cook at least a little bit and in some ways, this is the perfect place to try to do that. Cooking isn’t something that relaxes me, so making it simple and easy is really important to me. We’re living with limited means out here. We have a gas stove and oven, so we can’t just frivolously bake all the time and there are no microwaves to easily heat something up. This means that cooking can take way longer than it might in the United States. That’s not even taking into consideration all the work that goes into bleaching fruit and vegetables, ensuring you have clean water, grinding and canning meat, and so on. Since so many meals take so long to cook, most missionaries try to find simple and easy dishes that they can make that still taste good and are satisfying.

The woman I lived with for my last stretch of time, Reda, took me seriously when I said I wanted to learn how to cook and did a great job at holding me accountable. IMG_2265 Mostly all of the vegetables we got were fresh from the market, so that meant that there was also lots of chopping of vegetables to be done. I remember one evening, sitting in my room journaling, when Reda came in and said, “Tonight you’re going to practice chopping vegetables.” Perfect. I am very willing to help chop things, but I always have felt bad because I probably do it at about half speed than most other people. That night, we worked to make stir-fry. I chopped all the vegetables, Reda recommending which knife to use and the best approach to cut things. She also talked to me about different options for the meal—such as, if you don’t have meat, just fry an egg (which I know how to do!) and then cut it into strips so you still have protein in your meal. Stir-fry definitely became a meal that I could now bring back to the States with me. It’s a meal that allows a lot of options and variety based on what’s available and other than the chopping it doesn’t take very long! It was also a way for me to work on basic kitchen skills, like chopping.

My other meal that is definitely going to become a go-to in the States is baked oatmeal. If you have never had baked oatmeal, it’s pretty much just what it sounds like—you take oats and then put in some sugar and milk and then bake it. And it’s absolutely delicious. When I made it at Reda’s, I also made some pumpkin custard (which goes back to the whole utilizing the oven when you’re going to have it on). It was so simple to make. Reda recommended using half brown sugar, half white sugar just because brown sugar isn’t the easiest to get out where we are, but that’s also a good tip for if you’re ever running low on brown sugar at home! Probably my favorite part about baked oatmeal is how well it keeps. You can just save it in the refrigerator and pull it out to have with milk as breakfast or even an afternoon snack. This is really important for me because right now I’m just cooking for myself, so I want to make sure the recipes I’m learning either keep well or can be easily made in small portions. But at the same time, it can feed a lot of people if you want to serve the whole pan at once to guests. HIGHLY recommend!

So this blog post may not have been on Cameroonian food, but it definitely touches on some of the differences in cooking in the United States versus cooking where resources are more limited. I’ve learned about how to find meals that are adaptable, simple, and keep well. I think finding foods that keep well has also become more important here because food waste is put into perspective. Our neighbors often spend nights where they don’t have enough food to feed their family, so I want to make sure what I’m making will last and be nutritious.

I’ve learned that practice makes perfect (especially when chopping vegetables), cooking can actually be enjoyable, and it’s all about finding simple ingredients to make delicious food!

Helping Not Hurting: Lesson 2

Last week I talked about how in the West, when preparing to go do service abroad, we forget that long-term change does not happen by coming in and “fixing” problems in a week or two. I then talked about some of my experiences in Cameroon thus far and how this struggle between long-term and short-term change manifests within our ministry. If you didn’t get a chance to read that post, you can check it out here. Today, I want to go into the second lesson I have learned regarding how to help in the long-term. The interesting part about this lesson is that it actually does touch on short-term service and how that can be effective.

Lesson #2: Short-term service is effective ONLY when relationships are already in place.

Short-term service can be effective when there are already people within the culture we are trying to help. If there are people there who have already established relationships and will continue those relationships way past the time we leave, change can take place. This point came up recently during an orientation talk with some field visitors that would be potentially taking up long-term positions in Cameroon. As our field director talked about how any of the work that could now be implemented was solely because of all the work of people serving before us, I was brought back to my mission’s trip to Mexico (LINK) in Summer 2017.

I had the opportunity to go to Mexico and work with an organization called Doxa to build houses for families in the slums of Tiajuana. I found this to be one of the most impactful short-term missions trips I have ever been on because it felt like we were making a difference. The way Doxa works is that people who want us to build a house for them have to apply. Within the application process, they have to prove that they have a plot of land that we can build on and they also have to show some sort of proof of employment. This shows that the family will be able to maintain the house moving forward. I thought this was so smart because it ensures that the house isn’t just going to fall apart again after we leave.

IMG_0792Beyond that, Doxa has also been working in the same community for almost its entire time. One day, I was working on the roof of the house and I looked out and saw other Doxa houses that had the same bright colors and build. We were impacting this community, not just giving a temporary solution to this one family. Our Doxa representative who was working with us knew so many people in the neighborhood. As we drove through to our worksites people would wave and ask him how he was doing. The specific teams that were coming to Mexico may have been changing, but the project and the presence was ongoing.

It was because of the relationships that had been built through past groups coming and the Doxa workers that we were welcomed into the community and able to be effective.

I want to encourage everyone to find ways to serve and hope that this series does not discourage you. It’s important to do your research when finding organizations to work with to make sure that you’re leaving a lasting impact. It’s about finding ways that your resources and talents will go the furthest. That could mean sponsoring a child through Compassion or partnering with an organization like Doxa for a short-term trip or even committing your life to long-term work with missions like World Team. It’s not just about doing something to help; it’s about being effective in the ways we help.

Helping Not Hurting: Lesson 1

One of my goals when preparing to travel to Cameroon was to learn more about what it meant to be a long-term missionary. What was it like to live with a people group different from your own? What did it mean to stay with a people group long enough to see them fully evolve, to see their hearts soften to the gospel, and to see their community grow in Christ? Obviously, I knew that even my four months in the country wasn’t long enough to see a lot of this stuff and I still was not a long-term missionary. However, I was living with three families all of whom had been in country for over 10 years. Their testament would prove to be quite helpful in forming a picture of the answers to these questions. Even with five weeks left, I have already learned so much about what it means to create long-term change in a country and how people are able to go and generate short-term change.

Lesson #1: Fixing problems in the short-term does NOT generate long-term change. This goes along-the-lines with the familiar saying, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a life-time.” Despite most of us knowing this saying, we tend to do the opposite. We want to go into someplace and fix all of the “problems”s so WE can feel good about ourselves. Then, we leave, never knowing whether or not our two weeks did anything substantial. However, by teaching the people how to care for themselves, we generate change that is not dependent on our presence. I have found this illustrated well by the way our medical team in Baka land approach medical situations.

The other day, we were out in town when a couple came by with their young child who, as one neighbor told us, “looked as though he was going to die.” Where we are, the sad reality of the situation is that many people have seen enough children die that they know what this looks like. Anyway, since we weren’t there, they were told to come back the following day, which also happened to be a medical day. Around late afternoon the next day, I was meeting with the nurse for prayer time when she shared that the child had not yet showed up. This created a dilemma for her that I think we can all learn a lot from.

She wished she could just go to help the family and give the child the medication or care needed. And technically, she could. The family lived in the village only 3km pexels-photo-1327217.jpgaway; however, if she went there, that doesn’t help the family take care of that child in the future. Within the Baka society, over time there has been a great lack of initiative that has developed. In order to see lasting change for the people, they need (1) Jesus and (2) to understand that there are consequences for their actions (or lack of action). Our medical team is already providing a service that would be unprecedented in most other places. They provide a FREE consultation and will see you without money up-front. Then, if you need medication, you will pay a discounted price for it.

If they could just go door-to-door in the village helping every single sick person for two weeks straight, that would be great. They would probably leave Cameroon after that feeling as though they really did a lot to make a difference, but as soon as they left, the people would be back where they started. Creating lasting change requires making sacrifices and it is not going to be easy, but in the long run, it will be worth it.

Next week read Helping Not Hurting: Lesson 2 and learn how and why short-term service or missions CAN be effective. SPOILER: it has nothing to do with what you are doing!

A Time-Oriented Person in an Event-Oriented Culture

Traveling requires a balance between having a plan and being flexible. This balance is typically hard to find and accept, especially depending on your personality. If you are a planner, despite knowing that you need to be willing to adapt, it still probably pains you at least a little when things don’t go according to plan- especially when events don’t fall into plans A, B, C, OR D! If you aren’t a planner, it may be really easy to assume, “Well, whatever happens, happens” and then you find yourself in a situation that would be really easy to handle had you thought about it even a little! Trying to find a balance is even more difficult in event-oriented cultures (like the Baka) versus time-oriented cultures (like the United States).

Based on the Baka people’s environment and lifestyle, it makes sense that they are an event-oriented society. For one, not that many people have watches and clocks just lying around and so with such a loose aspect of time, it is hard to be time-oriented. Also, the majority of their life is centered on simply surviving. The focus is on getting food in order to feed their family. The day starts when the sun comes up and they either go to work in the fields or go into the forest and then the day end when it gets dark. Otherwise, there is a very loose concept of time. Let me use an example to illustrate this.

Our church doesn’t have a start time or an end time. We typically leave our camp around 8:15 AM to head to Mayos and then when we arrive, the concept of time goes out the window. Our arrival in the town typically signifies that church will be relatively soon for the members of the community. We then go around and greet people in the village, this could take 10 minutes or it could take 30 depending on the week. Slowly, but surely people start trickling into the church. Church “officially” starts when the drums show up and the worship begins. Then, following our worship time, there is a time of sharing. This could again be really brief or go on for a very long time. In one church service since I’ve been here, two women addressed their personal conflict at church! Depending on the deacon who is preaching, the service could last a long time or no time at all. Then, when we are all done, everyone disperses. The whole aspect of it is very non-Western and very event-oriented.

I am definitely a planner, so there were adjustments to be made. Anyone who meets me probably knows that within the first hour or so of talking to me. My planner is color-coded depending on the type of event. Beyond just my planner I also have a variety of other methods of organizing my day—sticky notes, daily planners, to-do lists, all of it. That being said, I know that pursuing a life in the mission field requires the ability to be flexible and adapt. I have found ways to cope and figure out how to exist in an event-oriented culture.

My planner functions as my overview with the times for events as a marker for “in an ideal world, team meeting will start at 4:00 PM.” Therefore, at 4:00 PM, I am ready for team meeting. Even if team meeting doesn’t start because of a medical emergency or some other event, it’s still on my mind and I remember that is an event that is taking place probably today and probably soon. Beyond that, my to-do list is more of an “if-I-had-all-the-time-and-focus-in-the-world-this-is-everything-I-would-do” list. It helps me see all of the different tasks I am working on (which is actually quite a bit because of all the different roles I fill here) and prioritize the ones that are most important. Then, I try not to put too much pressure on myself and just get done as much as possible in a day.

All of that said, I think it is important to schedule time for your non-negotiables. Non-negotiables can differ based on the person, but for me, they’re my Bible reading and journaling. Setting aside a definitive time for doing these things each day helps me have a sense of control, especially on chaotic days when a million things are happening at once. Even a planner, time-oriented planner can exist well and thrive in an event-oriented culture with just a few adjustments.