Sunday 22nd September 2013
Where to begin? Start at the beginning, go to the end and there stop! Can’t remember who said it but it’s probably the best plan for this blog.
I went to church. We were a little late getting there as my escort was on Africa time, but we were only ten minutes late due to some gentle prodding from me. I think they’d just sung a song and said a prayer by the time we arrived, and were splitting into seminar groups.
Young people had a choice of four as did the adults. I attended the one entitled ‘no limits with faith.’ I think the title ‘seminar’ was misleading. My understanding of splitting people into seminar groups is that they can explore a topic in a more interactive way than in a big group.
Not so here. It was 30 minutes of mini preaching by a young woman with a round, well scrubbed face, sensible clothes and the mandatory head wrap. I was the only woman in the church who didn’t have her hair covered. Also the only one wearing jewellery and make up. Of the 60 or so members the women out numbered the men by 3:1.
About ten minutes into the seminar my mind began drifting and I looked around at the other groups. (We were in different parts of the room). Pretty much the same thing was going on in the other groups, and I noticed a number of members who wasn’t even trying to hide their boredom.
I was thinking that at least it was only 30 minutes and that we must be coming near the end when the pastor announced that there was 15 minutes left. I almost groaned out loud. As he announced the 8 minutes left mark I wondered how seven minutes could have gone by so slowly.
That torture ended only to be replaced by a televised sermon, beamed live from Nigeria, by the founder of the ministry. Two hours was more than I could stand. After the lengthy testimonies I tried to keep up with his sermon with the many Bible reference, before consciousness abdicated and I drifted in and out of sleep.
It wasn’t that I disagreed with anything he was saying. I believe that if God is protecting you nothing can harm you. I believe that if you surrender your life to spirit that you will be provided for in every way possible in order to fulfil your life purpose. I just didn’t need to be told it in so many different ways in two hours.
After the sermon I was invited to stand and be welcomed to the church formally. I was also invited to meet the pastor after what turned out to be three hours and twenty minutes service.
‘How was it?’ he enquired as I sat opposite him as if being interviewed.
‘Long.’ I replied.
He seemed a little taken aback and said that today was a special meeting; normally they finish at 11 a.m. which would have shaved a whole hour off.
I couldn’t promise that I’d be coming back, but said I’d think about it.
Rick, my escort, invited me to have lunch with him. I got to try the local dish that I’d heard so much about, cornmeal fufu. I was convinced it was going to be like Jamaican turn cornmeal, but alas it was a much stodgier, more tasteless affair.
I enjoyed the pumpkin leaves it was served with though. So much so that I bought some in the market later to use as part of the meal I cooked for the house.
He’s part of the housekeepers household and gave me the opportunity to ask if there was a picture of the man who is buried at the front of the house we’re living in. I was curious to see if his was the face I saw on my drive into Kumbo on my first day.
The man in the photo they showed me didn’t have a beard, and the face I saw definitely did.
‘Did he ever have a beard?’ I asked.
‘He did once,’ said the housekeeper who knew him well.
His was exactly the type of beard I’d seen, and I was convinced it was the same man. Maybe he was just welcoming me to his house in the way everyone keeps welcoming me to Cameroon generally, and Kumbo specifically.
We spent a while talking about his mother who is a visionary, and why Christianity is on the rise in Africa, yet declining rapidly in the West.
He then took me on a mini tour of Kumbo. I fell in love with and bought some material from a seamstress who will make me several garments as soon as I can tell her what I want.
We had an impromptu tour of the prison grounds with its farm, fishing lakes and pig farm before heading to the administrative centre, and the town hall which guarded by a lion. Pleasant as it was it was nowhere near as interesting as seeing Squares in the daytime (where we had that delicious fish on my birthday).
My treat was seeing some juju dancers and getting to dance with one of them. The bells on their ankles reminded me of Morris dancers, but that’s where the similarities ended. They were masked and remained so throughout. They danced to drums and xylophones, big wooden ones that I realised were the ones also used in the funeral rituals Malidoma Patrice Some writes about.
When they finished we wandered down to the palace which was fairly quiet as most people had been watching the juju dancers.
Rick pointed out a doorway with many symbols around it and said it was the home of the jujus. I took a picture and was trying to peep into the dark cave- like room when I heard someone shouting at me.
I looked up to see a man running towards me.
‘You can’t go in there?’ he said sternly, and said something to Chima that I didn’t understand.
‘Why?’ I asked curiously.
‘Because it’s secret. You shouldn’t be taking photo or going in there.’
‘I was only looking,’ I protested. ‘Why is it secret?’
He just repeated, ‘because it’s secret’ and spoke to Rick again. Chima later explained that he was asking him why he hadn’t explained to me that I couldn’t take pictures or go in there.
‘So why can’t I go in there?’ I wanted to know.
‘Because that’s where the serious juju men live. The ones who can say some words and disappear in front of your eyes. The ones its best to run if you see them. They’re the ones that can do serious things to you.’
‘But I was dancing with them just now, they didn’t seem that scary,’ I protested.
‘They are the ones in training. They haven’t been initiated yet. Once that get initiated things change, they learn how to do some serious magic.’
The interesting thing is that just a few doors down from the juju house is a mosque. Religion and magic side by side.
It was getting close to the time when the market would close so we headed back on a bike, our third of the day. I’m getting used to them now. After haggling over a whole hand of plantains we went back home where Rick proceeded to kill the chicken we were going to have for dinner.
A day-to-day thing for him, it was pure drama for us. I passed on choosing which one of the hens to kill. I didn’t want to look into its eyes and risk seeing it pleading for its life.
It’s such a long time since I saw a chicken being killed that I asked if I could film it. As Chima pulled the knife across the chicken’s neck a cock crowed. As if it knew one of its kind was laying down its life to feed some hungry people.
As I was up to by elbow in frying chicken someone said, ‘This is Banner. He’s the natural medicine man we told you about.’
He was apparently in a bar across the road and wanted to meet me, but as I couldn’t go to him, he came to me. There I was, hugging this man in my own kitchen and arranging to meet him tomorrow.
It’s been a long time since I ate chicken so fresh. Chima and the housekeeper joined us for dinner. It was a real community affair. It fed eight of us comfortably.
Tomorrow I begin my first day of teaching.