Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Sabga Story

Dear all,

***I'm running out of time and computer savvy, but currently the Sabga pictures are uploading onto Ofoto (link on the side), and the Bamenda pictures are uploading somewhere onto this blog site (???). I hope it works! The less time-sensitive pictures are coming soon, in some form, somewhere.***

A weekend in Sabga, even if rushed between early morning departures and late night buses home, is as refreshing and relaxing as possible. We began with a terrific road trip through the mountains and fresh air between Yaoundé and Bamenda – all along the road were little markets, grassy mountains, beautiful houses (could have sworn I was in suburban Iowa), and their well-constructed ditches. I realized that I had really adapted to Yaoundé's shabby roadsides when I started complimenting the clean rock-lined ditches… "Wow, that is a really nice ditch!" My friends might have laughed, but I could not have been more serious. The ride was made more interesting by Ousman's very quotable conversation, a discussion on international swearing terms, and my and Alla's whispered discussions of Habiba's failed struggle for permission to join the Sabga trip. Ousman complained out loud about his wife's last-minute (and therefore short-sighted) request to come; we gently explained her actions to the three men in the car, and silently lamented her absence and oppression.

The markets were ridiculously cheap, and I think it must be combination of Yaoundé's price inflation and the vendors' desperation. Josh had insisted that I insist upon having cabbage and fufu made for me – a veggie's dream dish, he said – so we bought cabbage along the way. Expecting a bucket of 4 large cabbage heads to be around 2 000 CFA (4 USD), as it would be in the city, we instantly took cabbage from the first vendor who offered her bucket for 300 CFA ( 0.60 USD). Later on, when a small ragged girl offered her bucketload for 150 CFA, we could not possibly feel buyer's remorse – passing up dirtier-cheap cabbages for dirt-cheap cabbages! In Bamenda, Alla and I had a delicious roadside lunch of corn chof (one of my favorite dishes – recipe forthcoming) for 100 CFA ( 0.20 USD) apiece. It is crazy that now I'm back in the city, I feel hurt having to give more than two small coins for a filling meal…

But what am I saying ? Let's get on to Sabga ! The village is situated in the hills, nestled between the grassy highlands (cattle grazing territory) and the cool, misty lowlands (Bamenda). The dominant natural colors are serene: soft green from the horizon-to-horizon grass carpet, light grayish blues in the valleys shadowed by encircling mountains, and yellow-red dirt paths carved deep into the hills. The homes in Sabga appear to all be well-kept and comfortable – the mornings find women and little children sweeping their dirt courtyards (it actually works to sweep the dirt from the dirt!) to maintain clean and open compounds, and the evenings find every house alight, with abundant food on the table and large groups (usually men, plus the occasional female American visitors) eating together. Alla and I took on Muslim names, given by Ousman's cousin - Alla became Suraiya by necessity, and I accepted (but forgot the use) the name Subado. Suraiya means "brave and open-minded woman"; Subado means "the choice" or "the chosen one" - I thought both were nice compliments! We donned Muslim dress and veils, played with the kids, chilled in the very relaxed (but exclusive) salons of the village royal families and holy men, and generally were treated like honored guests. The experience, for this reason, was both privileged and limited. I got to sit next to the lami-do (religious leader, the mayor-equivalent of Sabga) and dine with the royal family (Ousman and all his brothers)...but had to sneak out of bed early in the morning just to see the women in their kitchens and to learn about the cabbage-cooking process and the kids' schooling.

The end-of-Ramadan fete, S'allah, lasts several long days in Sabga. The town youth gather in a giant huddle from about 10 in the morning til midnight, with drums sending out a strong beat from the center and shoulders bobbing up and down in the crowd all around. The dance is simple and repetitive - just that, shoulder shrugs up and down and side to side - but tiring after a few minutes. I don't know how they last so long! But I suppose it all means something different to them - this is the Muslim village youth's social event of the year, the time to meet sweethearts and couple off in the darker hours of the festival. Some of the young men sneak alcohol into the center drumming circle, and the pairing off reminded me strangely, vividly, of the frat parties at school. So the venue and the event were a cultural excursion, but the results are the same the world around... Other activities included a very decorative horse show that lasted about 4 hours (see photos of the beautifully adorned horses, jumping and dancing to the drum and flute music - an official event), many hours of dining and wining (I caught several of the royal men drinking wine and Guinness beer at night - not so official or holy, ha!), and a hike up the mountain to see the resident missionary Pastor - his extremely low success rate, of a handful of Muslim-to-Christian converts in the past 15 years' work, suggests that he stays as much for the scenery as he does to spread G-d's word. I don't blame him.

I think that I have also fallen in love, somewhat, with Fulani (Muslim, Cameroonian Highlands, cattle herding) culture. The Fulani are a beautiful people - tall, lean, caramel color, with gorgeous features (prominent noses, deep lines around the elders' eyes, bright and large eyes) - dressed in the the flowingest, simplest, most elegant clothes. Their best posture is one of total comfort - slouched on a couch, knees bent under the chin or under the tush, feet tucked into the chair's armrest or placed on a low stool in front. They eat delicious and simple foods, all throughout the day, and have clean mountain water to drink. They ride horses everywhere, treat their cattle like babies, and have housepets that look better-fed and -groomed than the any I have seen in the city (even Yaoundé kittens are not cute, for the street life is not kind to their furry selves). Their exclusive gatherings find men perched upon knees and feet, curled up on their comfortable chaises - simply being chill and watching TV for hours, discussing local rumors and events, planning for the next day of celebration, and drinking sweet tea with honey. (Bamenda makes the best honey around - white as snow and thick as molasses, and Sabga produces fresh milk, creamy yogurt, and salty cheese through a Land'o'Lakes cooperative. Truly, this is the Land of Milk and Honey!!!)

Alla and I left Sabga early Monday morning to pass the day in Bamenda. We enjoyed the markets a little too much, for the cheap prices and non-aggressive vendors actually made us buy more than we ordinarily would. I got fabric, dresses made, painted dishes, posters, ... the only thing that did not tempt me were the live crickets, being sold for fried consumption. We then climbed a mountain, on a whim, to see the waterfall up on high - the shopping bags full of dresses and trays and posters were a little ridiculous, but we did it incredibly fast, and enjoyed a spectacular view and cool breeze on top. The night bus ride home was uneventful (though not terribly comfortable, I at least heard some good music by Grace Decca), and I made it to work on time two hours after arrival. A little disheveled, but well-rested and without regret. I'd go back to Sabga and Bamenda in five minutes, if you asked me to pack my bags! Love,



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