I would wager that some Cameroonian polygamists have discovered that maintaining two families isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I say the same thing about maintaining two blogs. When Kiva gets its dues, you lose out. I apologize. The best I can do is try to share the goods and hope to stretch them twice as far. The following comes from our Kiva Fellows Blog.

I am proud to say that I have earned two blisters in the last week: one from hand-washing my clothes (I’ve now learned to really scrub ‘em), and another from pulling the kernels off corncobs. As a woman who has earned most previous blisters from breaking in new hiking boots or rowing crew, both luxury sports of a sort, this feels different.

One GHAPE member who deserves a good, \Work in its many forms is so deeply ingrained in the culture in Bamenda that it takes shape in language. In pidgin, you would not believe how frequently the words “struggle” and “suffer” are used, usually not as self-pity but rather as matter-of-fact. When someone is getting by, they are “managing.” I suspect you may have to hear these words pronounced in Bamenda to get their full meaning.

My favorite new word is “ashia,” a way of greeting, sympathizing with, or appreciating someone who is working hard. The response, if you are a bit confused, as I was the first few times I received an “ashia”, is a simple “thank you.” The best parallel may be saying “bless you” when someone sneezes in the U.S. – although my sneezes here (which I’ve managed to suppress over the years so that they actually sound like the word “achoo”) tend to elicit laughter, since “achoo” is a favorite kind of soup in Cameroon.

Ashia has become a special word because there is no direct translation. It expresses something that I cannot express in my English – although when I tried to explain this to some people here, they tried to explain to me that “ashia” is English, meaning here that it is not from any one of the many dialects spoken in the Northwest Province, but is rather part of the common language, pidgin English.

Once I finally convinced my coworkers at GHAPE that we really don’t have the word or anything like it in the U.S., discussion ensued. Calista (the accountant) asked, “Well, how do you appreciate someone?” I struggled and pondered for the better part of five minutes, and finally offered the possibilities of “thank you”, “good work”, or “good luck,” none of which capture “ashia.” Could you say “Thank you” to a stranger on the street who you saw pushing an especially heavy load?

I’ve discovered that “ashia” is the best way to break the ice of being an obvious stranger. Naturally, as two of very few white folks in Bamenda (I may have seen two or three other white folks in the whole time I’ve been here), we stick out. By this time, five months of travel through West Africa later, we’re used to sticking out and everything that comes along with it – “You are welcome!” How is Cameroon?” “Come here!” “Where are you going?” “White man!” and many other things regularly shouted at us on an everyday walk to the market.

But, at a certain point, like one month into our stay in Bamenda, the desire to just be part of the scene grows. Since we can never be invisible, I’ve got a couple of tricks to break the ice or turn the tables. When an adult shouts, “White man” or once in a while acknowledges gender and says, “White woman,” I usually shout back “Black man!” This brings laughter that I find pretty refreshing after 26 years marinating in P.C. land, U.S.A. When it’s a child shouting, “White man!” and usually pointing, I either make faces and point back at them, or sing the song I’ve just learned, apparently a childhood favorite of everyone in Bamenda:

White man, white man, white man,
White man with a long nose,
Since my mother born me,
I’ve never seen a white man!

It doesn’t get much better than that for winning laughter and respect.

As far as fitting in goes, well, “ashia” is the best. I can catch someone’s eye as they’re toiling over some project, pronounce an “ashia,” and immediately feel some kind of communion. The communion is enhanced if I adapt the Bamenda way of addressing folks as “sister”, “brother”, “auntie”, “mami”, “pa,” etc.

The same day that we discussed the word “ashia,” Auntie Calista (the GHAPE accountant) asked me, “What do you say if you want to give someone respect?” This question also left me without a good response. Of course, we have “sir” or ma’am” but to my American ear now used to Cameroon, these both sound awfully formal. When we say “sir” or “ma’am” it is usually in a formal context, almost pushing someone away from us as we offer respect. In Cameroon, these respectful terms are add-ons to someone’s name and at least in feeling bring them closer. To an older woman or a woman I want to respect, I can say, “Auntie” or “Mami” (pronounced like mommy). To an older man, I can say “Pa.” To a woman about my age, I can say “Sister.” All these show respect and immediately break the ice for me, a “stranger” as they say here.

Not that there’s much ice in Cameroonian culture. Using these terms of respect, I don’t feel like I’m dancing the who-can-out-polite-who dance that I’ve felt in other parts of the world. I don’t ever feel like I’ve given someone offense. And, nearly every argument or serious discussion I’ve witnessed in Cameroon ends in laughter, usually a burst of it that comes out mid-rant as if someone has suddenly heard themselves talking or seen things form a bird’s eye view and finds it all hilarious.

This is a culture I enjoy settling into.

Friends, family, miscellaneous readers (if any),

This is where we confess: we have another blog.

Okay, it’s not so dire. We’ll still blog for you as much as we can, and you may still get some of the rawer uncensored details that a more professional blog can’t handle. Part of our Kiva Fellowship requires us to blog for them, and of course, we’re already behind schedule there – just posted our introductory blog at the end of Week Three.

If you miss us, or want a break from the real life horror stories we’ve been posting of late, that’s the place to go. Here’s a teaser from the post that covers our trip from the Nigerian border up to Bamenda and our introduction to GHAPE and our new (temporary) home:

Our two room apartment was perfectly outfitted – tables and chairs, living room set, stove, dishes, pots, buckets for dish washing, broom, bed, wardrobe, radio, TV and DVD player. Within moments, we had guests in every chair of the apartment, were reviewing names for the second time, trying to guess just who-was-who and what role each played, and brewing a pot of tea on our stove. Learning that Dave loves eggs, a man named Michael (who we later learned is the brother of GHAPE founder Bernadette) practically snapped his fingers and two-dozen eggs miraculously appeared.

GHAPE sign, which Dave is offering to repaint...might also need a hammer.That was Friday night, and we quickly learned how hard-working GHAPE – and most of Cameroonians – are. Work began at 8:00 AM the next morning, with a meeting of all the staff: Loveline, field manager; Donald, Fointama, Mercy, Josephine, and Bridget, credit assistants; Calista, accountant; and two volunteer workers, Mr. Eric and Hostensia. At first we thought this meeting was specially called for us, but in fact GHAPE works not only a 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM week workday, but also a half-day on Saturday mornings.

Saturday afternoon and Sunday introduced us to our neighbors – the immediate, extended, and adopted family of GHAPE founder Bernadette, a mostly female family, led by “Mama,” a warm and hilarious septuagenarian. By the time we returned from the food market and Megan from the cyber, where she sent the requisite “we’re safely out of Nigeria and at home in Cameroon” email, the other ladies of the house were helping Dave to properly wash and prepare his vegetables for dinner-making. Pascaline then lent us a grinding-stone-cum-cutting-board and helped Megan to prepare dinner, including the new (for us) “bitter leaf.” By evening, we had 17-year-old Abigail and 10-year-old Fru (the only male in the house) sharing food with us in our room and watching The Gods Must be Crazy with us on bootleg DVD (thank you, Nigeria!).

Follow here for the rest of the post, including many more photos. Tease, tease, tease.