December 27, 2003 - The Vindicator: Corey Ballantyne celebrates Christmas in the Cameroon style

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Cameroon: Peace Corps Cameroon: The Peace Corps in Cameroon: December 27, 2003 - The Vindicator: Corey Ballantyne celebrates Christmas in the Cameroon style

By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Saturday, December 27, 2003 - 10:51 am: Edit Post

Corey Ballantyne celebrates Christmas in the Cameroon style

Corey Ballantyne celebrates Christmas in the Cameroon style

Celebrating Christmas, in the Cameroon style

Editor's note: Corey Ballantyne, an Austintown Fitch graduate, is a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, Africa. As a post-script to her recent "Letters from Africa" column, Ballantyne writes about spending the Christmas season a long way from home.



"Everyone gives gifts to everyone else," I said (to translate roughly).

I was trying to explain to a friend the pressure I was under (actually, placing on myself) to finish my gifts by a December deadline.

"Like a birthday?" my friend asked.

I thought for a moment. "Yeah. It's like everyone has their birthday the same day."

It's that time of year. Or is it? I have trouble remembering what season it is back home.

People could send me sunny pictures of themselves cooling off in Lake Erie, telling me that it was the other day, and it might be a minute before I did a double take.

Snowflakes? "Jack Frost nipping at your nose"?

Most of us won't have that for another two years, a total of a three-year-long summer.

Hot chocolate? Well, we drink that despite the heat, but mainly because it's a palatable way to drink powdered milk, for calcium. Natural milk in Cameroon is not pasteurized, if you can even find it.

You get homemade cookies only if you're willing to learn to use a large, covered pot as an oven.

What winter?

Candles and little lights to light up shorter days around a winter solstice? Forget it. There's no proof of the passage of time as obvious as a solstice here which, over the ages, might explain Cameroonians' lack of concern about the passage of time.

The steady climate might also make it all the easier for the Jehovah's Witnesses down the street to refuse to celebrate the birth of Jesus in December on the grounds that it isn't the month of his real birthday.

I remembered that it was Christmas as I received my first two packages of the season. The loving folks back home sent Jello, marshmallows, and, best of all, a grammar book.

But Cameroonians know no shipping madness, no retail frenzy, no talk of the holiday season's contribution to the economy for the year.

There's hardly even anything to buy that's appropriate to send home. Some stinky manioc sticks (similar to a cassava) in your Christmas stocking, anyone? Dishes and picture frames would be very un-Cameroonian gifts.

The trouble with clothes

Clothes must be tailor-made, so let's just say you can't see and try them on before buying. I could find you a couple of secondhand Osama bin Laden T-shirts if I searched long enough. That might make an interesting conversation piece.

So instead, for months I have been frantically hand-stitching gifts, out of fabrics I have painstakingly selected as being representative of Cameroonian style yet not garish or stupid to the American eye.

As far as I can gather, what Christmas will include for normal Cameroonians is a lot of churchgoing and a party. I'll be with my neighbors.

Holiday treats

A lot of people have animals they're saving for Christmas dinner. At some houses, it might be a monkey, currently tethered to a tree. At the neighbors' house, it will be chickens. I suppose that the meal will be all right as long as I'm not the one to slice any of the struggling birds' heads off. Mostly I'd hate for my inexperience to make their suffering worse than it has to be.

It's not quite like what my parents will be cooking. Right now, though, I'm in Kribi on the coast for a weeklong training workshop with the other first-year teacher volunteers.

From shrimp alone, I've had more protein in the last two days than I eat in probably two weeks at post.

We're across the street from the beach. I guess I can do without icicles for at least one or two winters.

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Story Source: The Vindicator

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Cameroon



By BAMA ETIENNE NJI ( - on Wednesday, April 27, 2005 - 7:49 am: Edit Post


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