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.
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.
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.
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.
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.