Writing Creatively With Spirit

A journey of psychic discovery


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Cameroon Experience – killing a goat on market day

Thursday 10th October 2013

Goats at Kumbo's livestock market

Goats at Kumbo’s livestock market

Thursdays is market day in Kumbo. Maybe I should qualify that statement. There is a market everyday in Kumbo, even on Sundays. (Exception is Election Day). On Thursdays, however, it swells to almost twice its usual size. People come from miles away to both sell and buy.

Everything is slightly cheaper on market days because of the increased competition, and fresher too.

Thursday is also livestock day. Livestock sale is held at the far end of the market near the timber yard. I went with a friend who wanted to buy a goat and met him outside the supermarket.

‘Let’s go,’ he said heading in the direction of the market. He seemed in a hurry.

Goats at Kumbo's livestock market

Goats at Kumbo’s livestock market

I followed, marvelling at how quickly he moved. When we got to the market it was absolutely heaving with goats. They were everywhere. In a thick clump in the main space allocated for livestock, on the side of the road, on banks leading up to the shoe side of the market and on banks leading down to the timber yards.

All of these goats were accompanied by men. All kinds of men, old ones, teenagers, Christian, Muslim, well fed and ones who looked in need of a good meal. Men who were still wearing their coats even though the sun was now hot in the sky.

The air was thick with the strong smell of goats. It caught me in the back of the throat when I opened my mouth to speak. It over powered the usual strong body odour of so many of the men here.

Some men had only one or two goats to sell, while others had 6 or 7 strung together in a web of ropes, tangled in such a way that if one went they would all go. A much easier prospect of recovery for the owner, as 7 uncoordinated goats all scrambling in different directions could not go far quickly.

Goats at Kumbo's livestock market

Goats at Kumbo’s livestock market

My friend weaved his way through the men, rubbing shoulders as he squeezed through the more tightly packed ones. Not wishing to rub shoulders I tried to find the less direct route around them.

I followed him around for a while trying to make sense of what was being said, but they were haggling in their own language which left me out of the loop as I’m not skilled enough to understand the numbers.

I decided to stand on the edge of the crowd by a BBQ stall where a young man was busy roasting small pieces of meat on skewers. I watched as he turned them. He also turned bananas and small plantains that sat equally uncomfortably on the iron grid.

I took the opportunity to make a small film. One of the advantages of the video camera I have is that it looks like a phone. So when I’m filming it just looks like I’m talking on the phone. People are less suspicious than when they see me with a camera.

I remembered the man at the motor bike taxi rank that challenged me for taking pictures of them without asking or offering to pay them. I’d blagged it by saying I was taking a picture of the sign behind them.

Goat with legs tied

Goat with legs tied

Anyway, after a while my friend found me and said he’d stuck a deal. The goat was bought. He wasn’t much more than a kid (if you’ll excuse the pun) and I watched as my friend tied his two front legs and then his two hind legs together.

‘Let’s get a bike for speed,’ he said and we found a rider who was more than willing to take a goat on this bike. So me, my friend and the goat were settled on the bike.

The goat sat in front of the rider with his legs straddling the rider, pointing backwards. My friend held on to them while I gratefully sat at the back of him. The only time I’d passed up an opportunity to sit in the middle.

We were dropped off at my friend’s house where he was going to kill the goat for a celebration. He asked if I wanted to watch. I should have said no, but I was curious to see how different this would be from the chicken Chima killed a few weeks ago.

Goat ready for slaughter

Goat ready for slaughter

There was little ceremony about the whole affair. My friend had enlisted the help of one of his friends. He held the goat legs tight. His friend held the goat’s head and made a sharp incision in its neck.

There was a gurgling sound like bubbling larva as the bright red blood spurted out of the small hole at the goat’s throat. His friend grabbed a bowl and caught the blood. After a while the blood thickened and the spurt changed to a flow. His friend held the goat upside down till the flow changed to a trickle.

They then proceeded to disembowel the goat. My friend made a fire in the outside kitchen over which he burned all the hair off the goat. Then he cut off its head and its feet from the last knuckle down.

Goat well on its way to becoming dinner

Goat well on its way to becoming dinner

I watched as he surgically dissected the animal into joints I’d recognise in a butchers shop in England. He handed me a piece and said ‘you must cook this and share it with the others in your house.’

It was Chima’s birthday and I decided to cook it as a birthday treat for him as I know he likes goat.

In the end five of us ate the goat curry I made. Two of us had a tiny amount, three ate heartily and the vegetarians stayed well clear.

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Cameroon Experience – That end of term feeling

Wednesday 9th October 2013

2013-10-09 14.00.14After teaching my last lesson I headed off to collect some items of clothes that were being made for me.

Although I love the children the pressure of teaching twenty hours a week was beginning to tell. This is in conjunction with visiting the other projects at the weekend, writing the blogs and advising in a number of other capacities.

Now it was time to go and do some things for me. To go out and hail a bike for the first time on my own  and say ‘take me to Tobin.’ To sit confidently on it even if I wasn’t confident I’d recognise where to tell him to drop me off.

Fortunately I didn’t have to worry too long about it as Immaculate, my seamstress, had come out into the road to make sure I didn’t get lost.

2013-10-09 14.09.00After only a few alterations I left clutching some beautiful garments. A long African gown, a western style suit and a top she truncated from and ill-fitting dress.

Happily clutching my purchases we returned to the bike rank to pick up a ride back to Nver (where I’m staying in Kumbo) to film Fred the director for a promo video.

That was my last duty of the day. I couldn’t wait to head out to Squares to eat the delicious fish and chips they prepare there, and to finally relax with a beer. Yes, I’m drinking beer – in the absence of a good Sauvignon Blanc.

Ah bliss!


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Cameroon Experience – Last lessons

Wednesday 9th October 2013

My turn to sit and listen

My turn to sit and listen

Today I taught my last lesson at the school. It was to Class 3. Maybe teaching is a bit of a misnomer because I mainly listened. After 3 weeks of being at the front of the class this last week was my turn to sit at a desk and be talked to by the children.

It began with my last lesson with Class 4 on Monday when I listened to their aspirations for their future. I’ve been working with them on visualisations and affirmations, on ‘beginning with the end in sight’ and working backwards to achieving it.

We created affirmations for brilliant bankers, accountants, secretaries, teachers, business owners and one president – His Excellency Ferdinand.

Some embraced the concepts wholeheartedly and I know they will practice them. Others were a little more sceptical but participated non-the-less.

2013-10-07 17.46.46On Tuesday it was time to listen to Class 1 read the stories I’ve been working on with them. I’d managed to secure some pretty exciting prizes for the three best stories. Sight of these galvanised even the most reluctant public speaker to get up and make sure he was in with a chance.

As I listened to him struggle through his short piece I realised that this young man had made the greatest stride of all the children I’ve taught in my time here.

He’d begun by being surly and passively resistive until I realised that his resistance was due to his inability to spell, and sometimes not being able to read what was on the board. Once these things were rectified it enabled him to tap into a seam of creativity which he was now able to demonstrate.

Winner of 1st prize

Winner of 1st prize

There were three clear front runners for the prizes, all girls. I had the privilege of two spare colleagues who kindly took photos and filmed all the children.

Winner of 2nd prize

Winner of 2nd prize

The only time I was in front of the class was to give out the prizes and to read to them the story I’d written, into which I’d managed to weave all their names.

They were so well behaved and so focused that we finished early and I was happy to give them a few minutes extra break to share their prizes and to eat the sweets I’d bought to share with the whole class.

Winner of 3rd prize

Winner of 3rd prize

Today, Wednesday, was my final day of classes. It began with the two 6th Form classes. I’ve been working on presentation skills with them. They too have travelled a journey from reluctant participants to eager and polished presenters.

All the presentations showed progress. There were a few outstanding ones, full of passion and promise. The topics were very varied and I learned a lot about the community and the culture, from views on educating girls to how to behave in the presence of elders.

Finally it was the turns of Classes 2 and 3 to read their stories to me and to their class mates. There were some outstanding pieces in Class 2, so much so that I could easily have awarded 5 prizes. Again all girls.

The girl mould was broken in Class 3 when a boy produced a story well worthy of a prize. It was also the only class where there were some non-participants. A few who had missed some lessons and some who didn’t feel confident enough to read.

Although all the children had said how much they would miss me, it was in Class 3 that one handed me a folded note on which she had written ‘To the honourable Predencia, I love you Miss. Thanks for your co-operation with us through out these weeks. Good bye. See you next time in heaven or on Earth.’ I’ve said hopefully it will be on Earth.

A goodbye note

A goodbye note

I feel that I’ve just scratched the surface of what is possible in helping these children to think creatively, to see something more than the mundane, to tap into the infinite possibilities that await them in the world. A very few have allowed themselves to begin to believe.

I will have to be content with that for now as belief is the most powerful driving force in the world.

I walked away from the school yesterday exhausted, but was carried on the appreciation and genuinely love I felt from these children.

I will see them again one final time at the Monday morning assembly when I shall say my final goodbye.


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Cameroon Experience – Mbosha 2

Tuesday 8th October 2013

It feels like I’m running to catch up with my blogging. It’s Tuesday already and I came back from Mbosha on Sunday.

Mbosha's rolling hills

Mbosha’s rolling hills

When I arrived there on Saturday I basked in the beauty of the place while being fed rice and meat by my hosts.

Those of you who know me well will know that I don’t eat red meat or pork. My diet is mainly vegetarian with some occasional fish and chicken. But when my host offered me freshly killed beef I decided to try a small amount and was reminded of why I don’t eat it anymore. The rice however was lovely.

It was my first time of staying with a Muslim family and I was keen not to do anything to offend.

12 year old with laptop

12 year old with laptop

As the climate is so like Britain in Mbosha my hosts drink a lot of tea. So over many cups of tea I showed a very keen and eager 12 year old girl how to use my lap top. The time I spent with them was a reminder of the things we take so much for granted in the West. Hard to imagine that a 12 year old in Britain would not know how to use a computer.

Essentially I was in Mbosha to see two of Self Reliance Promotors’s other projects, namely the clinic and the palm oil project.

The clinic is self explanatory. It deals mainly with minor ailments and conditions. It also is the main midwifery facility in the area.

2013-10-04 21.48.16The palm oil project is based on buying in bulk to get a better price and delivering locally to women to enable them to make a saving. There are two groups in the village that meet on Sundays. In addition to buying palm oil the women are encouraged to save small sums towards bigger items.

Unfortunately the clinic was closed for refurbishment but I was able to meet with a few of the women from one of the palm oil groups. This first group actually rotate their meeting days and had already met that afternoon.

There were, however, a few stragglers around who were happy to meet with me. When I told them my story of coming to Cameroon to find my ancestral roots they welcomed me with open arms (literally). They hugged me, called me sister, daughter, mother and told me I was home now.

Their warmth and welcome brought me to tears and my only regret was that I did not get a chance to meet more of the members.

On the Sunday I was able to see the whole process when the second group arrived for their meeting at my host’s house.

2013-10-05 19.46.40Seventeen ladies in butterfly colours made their way across the mountains to come together to share oil and to support each other in social as well as emotional issues.

It was a joy to be part of such a gathering. They too welcomed me, this time with song.

2013-10-05 17.07.45What was amazing was that the meeting was chaired by the 12 year old daughter of the house, as she was the only one who spoke English. She was co-opted into the group to act as the main spokesperson for the group.

I watched in amazement as she worked her way through the banking process, and moved seamlessly to the buying of the oil.

2013-10-05 17.45.11When this part was over the women decanted from the women’s quarters of the compound where the meeting took place to the garden, where the measuring and distribution took place. Here too was where the main support conversations took place against the stunning backdrop of hills, sheep and flowers.

I commented to anyone my hosts that I’d had the best night’s sleep since I arrived in Cameroon. The lack of electricity meant we went to bed early (9.30 p.m.) and I was still asleep at 8.00 a.m.

I was loaded with corn, palm oil and huckerberry (a spinach-like vegetable) and sent on my way. But not before being told that the women saw me as a bridge between them and he West. They hoped I would come again. I know that I will.


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Cameroon Experience – Mbhosha

Monday 7th October 2013

The volunteer house in Kumbo - close living

The volunteer house in Kumbo – close living

I’ve been in Kumbo since I arrived three weeks ago. It’s a busy commercial town, tightly packed with houses and people.

Its multi-religious nature is reflected in the many churches. It has a Catholic cathedral and a Muslim mosques standing almost side by side in the entertainment quarter known as Squares. (It’s where I went for my birthday, where the fish and chips are delicious and not like they are in England).

The mosque at Squares

The mosque at Squares

It is also where the Muslim call to prayer at 5 a.m. every morning originates and is so loud that I’ve only managed to sleep through it a couple of times – because I’ve been exhausted from the night before.

If that doesn’t wake me the noise from the loud music next door which usually begins around 6 a.m. (and on one occasion at 4 a.m.) usually does.

Inadequate waste disposal in Kumbo

Inadequate waste disposal in Kumbo

The streets show evidence of inadequate waste disposal as the town attempts to deal with the many hundreds, possibly thousands of people who pour into it each day to work, shop, or engage in financial transactions.

Interspersed with all of this are glimpses of the beauty of the distant hills, and much closer to hand the red earth is thrown into sharp contrast by the vivid green of banana trees, palm trees and other lush vegetation.

Views of the distant hills from the volunteer house in Kumbo

Views of the distant hills from the volunteer house in Kumbo

I have to confess that the mud and the rubbish on the streets, the fumes of the heavy lorries bringing goods to the supermarkets, and the constant whine of the hundreds of motorbikes that are used here as taxis, have at times got to me.

But I’ve been so focused on teaching and on meeting the people who have aided my spiritual development that I’ve not had time to get out of Kumbo. Until this weekend that is, when I took the trip to Mbhosha to see two of SEREP’s other projects; the clinic and the women’s empowerment groups.

I had been told that Mbhosha is beautiful but that the road to get to it was difficult and dangerous when wet. Indeed a couple of the volunteers who worked in the clinic and with the women’s groups reported coming off their bikes on more than one occasion on the way home  after heavy rain had made the road a mud bath.

I had vowed to take a proper taxi and pay the extra money to get there. However, my host told me it was very difficult to get to his place by car and that he would send a bike with a reliable rider to get me.

Although the bike was an hour late arriving, it gave me a chance to talk to one of the students who had arrived at the head office for extra-curricular computer lessons about the importance of believing in yourself.

It is no lie that the road to Mbhosha is tricky. The rider confirmed this as soon as I got on the bike. I asked if he’d mind if I held on to him as it was my first time on a bike without having someone behind me (three on a bike is common here).

I don’t know what I’d have done if he’d refused because he was my anchor as we bounced and weaved our way over the bumpy uneven roads, or more accurately mud tracks. Not only was I bouncing around like I was on a fairground ride, but my bones were being shaken out of their sockets by the very gravelly nature of the road. My leg was numb from trying to keep it in one position, i.e. tight on the bike, and I was happy I’d taken the advice to wear my Wellington boots. When I finally got off the bike they were splashed with mud that had flown up during the journey.

I had great admiration for the rider who had to use his feet to negotiate the bike out of the deeper ruts. One was so deep that the bike stalled three times as he tried to start it. I thought we might not be able to go on, but he was skilled and got us through it. I tried to film the road but soon gave up as I needed both hands to hold on.

There was a point, however, when I stopped noticing the road and started noticing the beauty of the surroundings. We had left behind the busyness of Kumbo, the rubbish and the noise, and was passing through the most beautiful mountains.

Imagine the Lake District in England with sunshine on the hills, bathing the slopes in glorious shades of light and grey. Imagine valleys of palm trees so tightly packed together that they appear to be one giant tree.

I gasped with the sheer beauty of it and couldn’t stop exclaiming each time we came around another bend, ‘Oh, it’s beautiful!’

2013-10-04 18.56.33As we climbed the vegetation changed. By the time we arrived at our destination the palm trees, banana trees, and other tropical plants had given way to more temperate ones. By the time we stopped at our destination, or more accurately near our destination, because the bike had run out of petrol, there were bracken and grass covered hills identical to those in England.

We walked the last few yards to the compound and I was met by my host. He’s a quiet gentle man about 30-35 years old.

‘Welcome to my compound,’ Kari said shaking my hand warmly. ‘These are my daughters,’ he added pointing to two small girls and a slightly taller one. They too welcomed me. I was surprised to see that they wore make up, including lipstick. I wondered why, because they were stunningly beautiful without it.

Kari took my bag, took me to the parlour and asked the eldest daughter Baki to bring me tea while he went to deal with the rider. Kari explained that I had to pay him 1500F now and the balance of 3000F when he took me back to Kumbo tomorrow. This was a far cry from the 12,000F it would have cost if I’d taken a car.

Goats grazing on the hills in Mbhosha

Goats grazing on the hills in Mbhosha

All of this was incidental, however, because I was gawping at the scenery around me.  At the sheep and goats grazing on the hills, at the trees resting on the tops of the mountains like punctuation marks, at the flowering hedgerows that surrounded the house.

I hadn’t had time to drink my tea before Kari said he had to help catch a horse. I went out to watch (the tea was in a thermos anyway) and recalled the film ‘The Horse Whisperer’ as I watched him approach one horse in the middle of about ten others. I watch as he whispered quietly to the horse while gently stroking it. When the horse was totally trusting he quickly and deftly slipped the rope over his neck and led him off. The three young men who had been standing around and the other horses followed.

The daughters of the house

The daughters of the house

All except one which was tied to a tree. It provided a perfect backdrop for a photo shoot of the girls and a little boy who belonged to the bike rider who had so skilfully delivered me to this paradise.


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Cameroon Experience – End of another school week

Friday 4th October 2013

A few of Class 1's pupils after their creative efforts

A few of Class 1’s pupils after their creative efforts

I’m not as exhausted as I was last week at this time. I’ve somehow managed to find a way round the intense challenge of teaching classes and 1 and 2 with only a thin dividing wall which is often not even a wall. It was all credit to the children who knuckled down and got on with the job in hand.

We did the affirmation ‘I am very creative,’ often before they began writing their stories. We also did some loosening up exercise to get the creative juices flowing. Most of them love it. I’ve explained to them that creativity needs fun.

I was amazed that they didn’t hear the bell for break, and even though I asked them three times if they wanted to take a break, not a single child answered.

What I observed today in this class of 12-14 year-olds was true creative energy at work. They had entered that zone where time does not exist, where they and their characters were so intricately entwined that the fact that a whole school of children playing outside did not register with them.

They put their hands up frequently to ask for the spelling of words and were often impatient for me to spell the word quickly so that they could get back to their stories.

‘It doesn’t get any better than this,’ I said quietly to one of the new volunteers who had been sent to observe me.

Work is progressing upstairs to get the classrooms ready for Monday. Two floors are now concreted, and when I left the walls were being plastered. The tarpaulin had been removed in preparation for the zinc to be put in place.

Monday may bring a very different experience, but nothing can take away the sheer pleasure of watching children being totally absorbed in creation.


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Cameroon Experience – Donating a Difference

Wednesday 2nd October 2013

It came to my attention on Saturday that no building work was taking place at the school. A couple of the volunteers said that the project had run out of money. I was very concerned as the extra classrooms being built upstairs are desperately needed.

Work begins again on the school

Work begins again on the school

It is nigh on impossible to teach classes one and two as the dividing wall between the two classes is plywood, with doors that open randomly. I have described the difficulty in another blog.

I decided to find out from the director on Tuesday when work resumed following the election bank holiday. When we met he confirmed that the project had no funds to continue the building work.

I had already decided that I would offer a donation if he confirmed the lack of money. I asked him if £300 would be sufficient to get the project moving again. His face told me everything I needed to confirm this.

I arranged for the money to be sent to me via Western Union. This was done within half an hour of our conversation.

Fred went into action immediately. He contacted the building supervisor and arranged for a meeting between the three of us in which we discussed the most appropriate way to use the funds.

Making the building completely water-tight was not possible on this budget, but it would be possible to roof two of the classrooms. This would enable the floors to be concreted which would make them usable as soon as the concrete dried.

Work began on Wednesday morning as soon as I was able to collect the funds from Western Union. The process for doing this deserves its own blog.

Not only will two new classrooms become available, possible by the end of the week, there will be sufficient funds to have extra benches made, and to buy new blackboards.

By the middle of the afternoon the school was a hive of activity. The main builders were being assisted by two of the new volunteers, and at times the director himself. At the close of school many of the children stayed behind to help with the building work.

I am amazed at the difference my £300 made. It’s a project I recognise makes a real difference to the lives of many disadvantaged children. I know there a many such projects and I cannot support them all, but it’s hard not to support something when you observe the massive difference a small contribution can make.

If you’re interested in joining me in supporting this project I’d love to hear from you. Oh dear! I’m beginning to sound like one of those begging ads. But as the Tesco ad says – Every Little Helps.