Mr. Bernard Eats Animals

Mr. Bernard is the chief of the health center in Danfili. As someone who comes from the West region (which is culturally, socially, and geographically distinct from the Adamawa), his behavior and personality can be anywhere from refreshing to abrasive, depending on the context. He is very proud of his children (his twin sons passed the probatoire exams and begin their final year of secondary school next week), but continues to push them to be their best. He has big ambitions for the health center, and is conscious to the fact that these changes will take time. Many aspects of his behavior are contrary to the Danfilian customs: Mr. B loves listening to loud music (lots of cowbell), enjoying a drink with work partners, and scoring deals on bush meet.

Because the most prevalent religion is Islam and Islamic dietary laws are strictly observed, bush meat is not widely sold in Danfili. Unlike some of my volunteer friends who have seen meats such as pangolin, monkey, and rat for sale in their town markets, Danfili sticks generally to selling beef and fish (except for special occasions, like the upcoming Tabaski festival, when people sacrifice sheep, chickens, and other expensive animals). Outside of strict diet, bush hunting is linked to certain illnesses in humans, rates of animal endangerment, and generally not widely practiced in the Adamawa region. Mr. Bernard however, is a huge sucker when it comes to good bush meat deals. I thought I’d share a few vignettes with you to highlight the adventures of working with a bush meat enthusiast.

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It was a normal Thursday morning. I arrived at the health center ready to work on our nutrition screening program, and the morning was going well. At one point I was asked to go into the storage room to bring out another box of the therapeutic food supply. No problem. I walked through the door and grab the box. In turning around, my eyes locked with that of a very large, very dead Dinosaur Bird (not the scientific name) laying in the corner of the room.

dinosaur-bird

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After spending a week traveling around Cameroon for a conference, I returned to the health center one afternoon to check in about the next day’s activities. Mr. Bernard mentioned that he had to store a patient in my office but lost the key, and mischievously asked me to unlock the door. Curious, I cautiously opened the door, expecting him to have maybe left one of the chickens or hospital dogs in the small room. I scanned the corners of the room: clear…clear…Dragon!! He trapped a living monitor lizard in my office because he was waiting for a friend to return to Danfili to kill it for him.

monitor-lizard

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In the early days, learned to pay closer attention to what Mr. Bernard says regarding food preparation after one day realizing that ‘porcupine’ is ‘porc-épic’ (porky-pick) in French after eating it (with couscous of course). For some reason, I thought he was talking about a man who got poked by one, not that we were eating one.

porcupine

***

One evening, as things wound down at the health center, one of Mr. Bernard’s meat dealers paid a surprise visit. “Look what I found,” he said as he held open a large market bag. Peeking into the bag, we saw lumps of scaly flesh folded over itself, resembling a knotted ball. Removing it from the bag, we saw it was a girthy boa that measured more than two meters long. Marveling, Mr. Bernard put the dead boa back in the bag, paid his friend, and stored the snake in his office.

That night, Mr. Bernard was called from sleep by a patient. He rose from bed, turned on his flashlight, and went to the patient. As he passed through his office, he noticed an empty market bag, and saw that the snake was not, in fact dead, but circling the perimeter of the office, and climbing his desk. Many Cameroonians are afraid of snakes, and Mr. Bernard is no fool. He fled the scene and called the guardian over, who trapped it in another room and attacked it until its head was separated from the body. Mr. Bernard’s voice still quavers when he recounts this story…and its been a while since we last had bush meat at the health center.

Walking home

After the final vaccine patients leave, I say goodbye to the hospital staff and head to the road to pass through town. The muddy morning discouraged me from the quicker way home through the neighborhood. Tall grasses tower left, and giggling children peak out to call hello. The sun is focused, framed by elevated clouds. The possibility of rain hangs in the air as I follow the red-brown road. Gazing out past the vacant school yard, the clear air magnifies the mountains stretched across the horizon, framing the vibrantly green valley below. 

Motos rev and dash past, stirring up dust as they maneuver around speed bumps. Those young boys should be in school, grumpy Phoebe thinks, as patient Phoebe reminds her not to judge. Chickens rustle feathers, one awkwardly flies into a bush. Approaching the commercial part of town, seeing storefronts are closed, perceptive Phoebe notes it must be time for prayer, while hungry Phoebe hails down a girl selling bananas. 

It’s been a long day seeing faces, hearing “jamna?” Loud and clear. Salutations are exhausting, when finding solitude is rare. Patient Phoebe reassures tired Phoebe that home is not much farther. Reflecting on the day, and feeling deflated, Danfili Phoebe stops to pause, allowing herself to breathe.

Remember to enjoy each moment. Remember where you are. Each day is a choice, and you choose to be here! 

Avoiding muddy puddles, I turn into town and notice new things I wouldn’t have a moment ago. The toddler chasing a duck through the grass, an old man napping peacefully in front of his house, and the elaborate, clap and dance of three girls chasing each other along the path. Rounding the corner towards my compound, I look forward to resting. As the neighbor’s say hello in succession, instead of feeling tired, I smile and laugh to myself because the smallest greeter called me “Phoebeth,” and offers an eager handshake. This is where I am, and where I choose to be. 

Lonely Planet: Danfili

During the past few weeks I have hosted many friends at my post. You may be wondering: “when I come visit Phoebe in Danfili, what will we do?” No worries folks! Here is a comprehensive guide for the must sees of the great Danfili.

Sights and Attractions

If you find yourself in Danfili on a Monday, be sure to stop by the town market. At the front end of the market, mamas sell a variety of local produce, including various edible greens,  Cassava flour, corn, ground nuts, and seasonal fruits. As you make your way through the crowds, vendors from surrounding villages and towns to sell their wares, including towers of nesting pots, flip flops and other plastic shoes, imported Chinese gadgets, pagne fabric, onions and traditional herbs and spices, and other items. Near the mosque you will find a great assortment of second-hand clothing for sale, and an anglophone vendor who enjoys chatting in the afternoons. The open-air butcher stand is quite lively, even more so on market days. While some folks there are friendly, you will surely be pointed out as a foreigner. 

Most days of the week, visitors are welcomed by Danfilians, who love to share stories of other PCVs and hear stories of visitors’ recent travels. Stopping in on the MC2 (micro finance credit union) is sure to bring on an enjoyable, amusing conversation, as will a leisurely stroll to the most popular town boutiques. Alhadji Bashirou is especially friendly with visitors and likes to know what’s for dinner.

Visitors also enjoy visits to the PCV’s work site, and depending on the day, can assist with various volunteer tasks, such as vaccination record keeping, weighing babies, and even going to other villages for educational presentations. If you find yourself in Danfili on a lazy day, a nice way to pass some time is to head to the nearby village of Mbella Assoum. Only 5km uphill, this town is home to the touristic site of Lake Mbella. Said to have healing powers and hippos, the lake has beautiful views, a nice breeze, and plenty of space for throwing a frisbee. A pavilion near the water is a perfect picnic spot. 


Lodging

Accommodations in Danfili are sparse. PC Inn has space to comfortably fit two visitors, but has hosted as many as six people for humble entertainment. Evening electricity makes this spot a go-to for youth who need to charge their cell phones, who will often stay for a game of Go Fish. Quarters are tight, but for many the airy latrine is well worth the cozy stay.

Restaurants

While few trustworthy restaurants exist in town, the best food can be found at Chez-Phoebe. Featuring many imported spices and ingredients, the menu is always changing and offers a nice variety depending on availability. Recent menu items include potato latkes, spicy home fries, peanut sauce veggie stirfry, pancakes, and steamed cabbage. 

Looking for a quick snack? The butchers sell brochettes of select beef cuts at an affordable price, and one can generally find beignets of various combinations at the market. Beware of the afternoon prayer traps; many vendors and shop owners return home between 1:30pm and 3pm, and again from 6:30pm to around 8pm. 

Coming and Going

With few private cars available, visitors often arrive in Danfili by public transportation. Depending on the direction and time of day, reserving a spot in a public car is the surest bet to arrive to Danfili from Ngaoundal or Tibati (both are about a $1.50 ride). Be prepared to share your seat with others, cars are often full with six to eight passengers! If traveling from Yaounde, you will be able to find a car traveling towards Danfili in the train station parking lot. Visitors traveling early the next morning or arriving late at night are encouraged to stay with the Ngaoundal PCV before continuing, as evening travel is less safe. 

Traveling out of Danfili is easiest if done before 6pm. At the main road  you can hitchhike in a passing car, if there is space, or wait for a Danfili car to fill up. Coaster buses also pass through in the mornings and evenings, and are great when you don’t have much luggage.