Those incredibly fabulous pagnes!

Another very interesting group outing today! DWIG ladies visited the pagne factory CICAM (Cotonniere Industrielle du Cameroon) located in Bassa, Douala, Cameroon. It’s half an hour drive from our usual meeting point, the Bombay Masala Restaurant in Bonapriso. As usual, the group gathered at the appointed time and at 13:15 sharp, we were on our merry way. It was a pleasant drive with minimal traffic on the street, considering that Bassa is home to one of the busiest markets of Douala.

As soon as we arrived at the factory, we were briskly whisked away to the receiving hall of CICAM and the security officer gave us pointers on how to conduct ourselves during the tour and within the premises. The presentation was swift and to the point. Everyone appreciated that.

CICAM was founded around 1965 and is the only pagne factory in Cameroon. Pagnes are   100% cotton tissues/cloth especially printed with lively and colorful designs. They are in-demand during special occasions such as International Women’s day, Labor day, elections, all sorts of feasts, funerals and weddings. Pagnes are great not only for clothing for men, women and children, but they are also made as attractive and colourful curtains, table cloth, bed sheets and all sorts of stuff you can think of.  CICAM produces pagnes and other clothing materials not only for Cameroon but also for other countries such as DRC, Gabon, and Benin.  CICAM sources the tissues or calico cloth from its own cotton weaving factory in Garoua, a province in the north of Cameroon.

The first major process center we visited was the design center. Designing includes both manual and computer-assisted. The design team is made up of Cameroonians, some of whom have been with the company for 30 years or so. We were amazed by the designs that were ready for selection. They were truly beautiful! Designs that are selected are then sent to production which includes vinyl-engraving, printing, washing and treatment, cutting, packaging and finally delivery to clients or to the shops. After the tour, everyone bought various pagnes of fabulous designs from the boutique. We went home happy with our own loot-bag of pagnes.

Our appreciation goes to Leria who made this tour possible for the ladies. Thanks Leria and thanks to the wonderful staff of CICAM who patiently explained each process and answered our never-ending questions!

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by Joy G.

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Pad Thai!

One of DWIG’s activities is a monthly cooking demonstration by a member. Today, we had one by Malinee, who hails from Thailand. And she showed us how to cook authentic Thai Green Curry (chicken), Pad Thai, Egg Fried Rice and Sticky Rice with Mango for dessert. They were all easy to make and yummy to the taste!

It was also an international gathering today: Thai, Italian, Indonesian, French and Filipina – we all helped out:  washing the ingredients, chopping, weighing, tasting. We started cooking at 10 a.m. and by 1:00 p.m. we were feasting on the fruits of our labor. Amidst all the preparations, we were chatting, laughing, listening to Malinee’s explanations and just simply having a good Monday morning together.

So here’s the Pad Thai Recipe for you to try out in your own kitchen:

  • Flat rice noodles – 250 g, soaked in cold water until soft for about 15 minutes
  • Large shrimps, peeled and deveined – 10 pcs or more, if you want
  • Yellow tofu – 150 g, diced
  • Eggs – 3 , beaten
  • Crushed peanuts (optional if you have allergies), 100 g
  • Chives – 3 to 5 stalks, cut in 1 inch- length
  • Fresh bean sprouts – 100 g
  • Red onion – 1, sliced
  • Garlic (optional) – 1 clove or more, chopped
  • Pad Thai sauce – 100 g
  • Sugar (optional) – 1 tbsp
  • Fish sauce (optional) – 1 tbsp
  • Soy sauce – 1 tbsp
  • Cooking oil – 2 tbsp
  • Lime/Lemon wedges

Heat oil in a pan or wok, in medium to high fire.  Fry garlic and onion. Set aside on one part of the pan. Add the shrimps and cook until color is changed to red. Set aside on another part of the pan. Add the tofu and fry for 5 to 10 minutes until cooked. Stir fry all ingredients on the pan for 1 minute. Set aside to one side of the pan. Fry the eggs (scrambled style) on the same pan. Mix all ingredients in the pan. Add pad thai sauce and soy sauce. Add rice noodles and leave to cook for ½ minute. Add crushed peanuts. Stir fry until noodles are soft and cooked. Add a bit of water to avoid drying out. Season with sugar and fish sauce. Add the chives and mix. Remove from fire/heat. Add bean sprouts and mix again. Serve with lemon, additional crushed peanuts, bean sprouts, and chives. Pad Thai can also be spiced up with crushed chillies and more fish sauce. Enjoy!

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by Joy g.

p.s. pictures to follow ….

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Saturday Night Live: AKON!

March 24, 2012. Yes I was there. With a couple of friends, I watched the Akon live concert in Douala. It was one of those rare events that happen here and it was good to be part of it.

Who is Akon? What I know of Akon is that he’s a Senegalese singer and he is a big hit in India and in the Philippines; and his songs, though not for under-age consumption, are upbeat and easy to like.

A few years back, I went home to the Philippines and my friends were listening to him and he was apparently big there at that time. So I got introduced to his songs and the one that stuck in my memory was Smack That. His songs include Sorry (Blame it on Me), a remake of Mr. Lonely, Ghetto, Mama Africa, to name a few.

The night of the concert was humid and really warm (consider this an understatement!). We’ve been warned that it was a standing room only concert that would start at 7 in the evening and end around 10 p.m. We took our place at a good viewing distance from the stage, giddy with anticipation to hear Akon sing.

Some Cameroonian singers were lined up to do some front acts. There were about five of them, half were worth following and the other half bored me to tears.  The evening was getting late, warmer and sweatier, but the star of the night still was not on stage. The crowd was also getting antsy and there was clamor for Akon to show up!

At some point, some security problems came up which created a stir and caused some unnecessary panic and disturbance among the crowd. Because of this, our small group was forced to leave our good spot and we moved to a safer area near the gates. This would allow us to leave the premises immediately if chaos or stampede would break out. Luckily, the hoopla died down and the show went on.

Finally, at 10 p.m. Akon appeared and started his gig. Unfortunately, at the beginning of his performance, Akon’s crew had some technical problems. The crowd was not so happy with this but they were still supportive of the singer. It must have been very disappointing for Akon who would have wanted to please his audience and deliver an unforgettable show for them.

After overcoming the technical issues, Akon was fantastic and full of energy on stage. Although we cut short our stay at the concert, I was happy to have seen him and hear him sing his popular songs – live on stage! And yes, it can only be a standing room-only concert because one can’t help but dance and sing along with him.

Thanks Guinness for bringing something different to Douala! It was fun! When’s the next concert?

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by: Joy G.

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A day-out in Dizangue: DWIG visits Rubber and Palm Plantation and Factories

Being a DWIG member, you can make your membership either boring or exciting. I prefer to make it active, exciting and not at all boring. Each month, DWIG offers a coffee morning, a group lunch, an outing and a happy hour drink(s). A coffee morning is oftentimes short, hurried and a kiss-hello-how are you-goodbye-see you soon-sort of thing. It is when you meet, greet and set up further or future private get-togethers with each other. Lunch is usually more leisurely at a pre-selected restaurant that might be new or one that you’ve been to. Food can be good, can be bad, but the company will always be great! Happy hours are your let-loose-let-your-hair-down time and shared not only with other members but with partners too! But the outing is really your get-to-know-each-other and explore-Douala/Cameroon-together time.

In February, we visited the Safacam rubber and palm plantation and factories.  Safacam is located in Dizangue, some so many hundred kilometers from Douala (between 1.5 and 2 hours from Bonapriso). DWIG member, Nancy, graciously hosted us and arranged the plantation and factory visits with Safacam.

At 8:00 on a Wednesday morning, a small group of DWIG members trooped towards the plantation; sharing 4 cars; traversing the usual bustling road at Ndokoti; driving on the pretty Route Chinoise and proceeding with caution on the highway that would bring us all through Edea onto Dizangue. When we arrived at the gate of the plantation, Nancy and Simon, the plantation manager, met us and immediately led the way to the inner sanctuary of the plantation. We visited the rubber trees first.

Latex Collection


 As soon as Simon started explaining the development and life cycle of rubber trees, somebody asked the question on why rubber trees lean on one side. His answer: wind direction. It was fascinating to see the actual latex (that liquid that comes from the trunk of the rubber tree) flowing into receptacles so that it may be made later on into tires, gloves or condoms! But touch not the thing! It stinks – it really does! Harvesting the latex is best left to the care of the men as they skilfully wield their odd-shaped knives to scrape off the bark, and let loose the much-coveted white stinking liquid. On the other hand, it is the womenfolk who work in the nursery. Simon shared that the tasks of planting and rearing young rubber trees are given to the women because they are more accurate (necessary for grafting) and provide better care to the newly planted trees, like mothers to their babies.


Palm Tree Nursery

After the rubber trees, we drove on to look at the palm plantation. Simon’s assistant was eager to explain a palm tree’s life story and how workers would know if the palm nuts were ready to be harvested. Another worker showed off how he cuts off branches that are dry and useless, pointing out that the workers have to keep the surroundings of the palm trees clean so that when a nut falls from a bunch, it can be seen easily. Apparently, a fallen nut signals that the whole bunch of nuts is ready for harvest and can go into oil extraction and processing. Palm nuts provide two types of oil:  edible oil used for cooking; and non-edible oil used for soap making. One tidbit learned from Simon, is that the palm tree has a male flower and it’s actually quite useless for the oil business. They, however, provide a tool for reproduction during pollination. After delivering on its role, the male flower shrivels, dies and needs to be cut off and discarded!

During the quick tour of the rubber and palm oil factories, Gerard and Sebastien, factory managers, explained to us the rudiments of rubber and palm oil productions. But the sun, the smell (remember the stinking liquid? Processing it gives off an even worse smell!!!), the noise and the heat in the factories were overpowering us all. Thus, we hurriedly requested both gentlemen to show us the finished products; admiring them with oohhs and aahhhs. Safacam produces rubber for export to tire manufacturers in Europe, the US and Asia. Meanwhile, palm oil produced is only for consumption in Cameroon because despite the number of palm plantations and factories in the country, there is not enough palm oil produced for the local market.

With growling stomachs and near-low sugar levels, we were happy to speed off towards the club house where lunch was served. Now the club house is another story. Perched on a small hill overlooking a lake, the clubhouse was a perfect setting to end a wonderful outing.  From a simple but delicious offering of brochettes, roast chicken, plantain, French fries and roasted vegetables, we stuffed ourselves and relaxed while taking in the breathtaking view spread before us.

Back to Douala at 15:00, we made it home on time.

view from clubhouse

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Written by Joy G.

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A Cameroonian Wedding

We were invited to the wedding of  Zédou and Julie in Foumbot on Nov. 19, 2011.  Zédou (a branch manager of Advans Cameroon) and Julie are based in Yaoundé, but they both hail from Foumban and Foumbot (West Cameroon), hence the wedding ceremony was held there, 5 hours away by maniacal car-driving from Douala, where we are living. I say “maniacal” because that’s how Frank, my frustrated-Formula-1-driver of a husband, drives!

On Friday, we drove for 4 hours to Banjoun where we stayed at our friends’ house for the weekend. Our gracious hosts, Bart and Christine, welcomed us in their lovely home. It was my second visit to their house and each time, I’ve been impressed by how big yet cozy it is. Banjoun has a lovely cool climate and their garden is such a refreshing oasis of greens and a variety of colors from the different flowers that Christine grows. And they have a very nice terrace that look out to that lovely garden!

On the wedding day itself, we took our leisurely breakfast on the terrace, not really hurrying knowing from past experiences in Congolese weddings that the ceremony would never start on time. The invitation was at 10:00 so we had planned to leave at 9:30 to be in Foumbot at around 10:30. But we received a phone call that the mayor who was going to officiate the marriage was going to respect the time as he was a busy man and had a lot of other appointments for the day. So we thought okay, we should go and avoid being fashionably late.

Fashionably late we were not! In fact when we arrived we were the first guests. At least the groom and his best man had already been there to meet us! The ceremony started one and a half hours late (not bad by Cameroonian standards), and guess who was the last to arrive? Yes, the mayor himself!

The wedding pagne (traditional African tissue/cloth of various colors and designs)

As guests began to arrive for the ceremony, my eyes feasted on the different creations of the wedding pagne that was provided to everyone joining the ceremonies. It is a Cameroonian tradition for guests to wear clothes made out of pagnes of a single design, specially chosen by the couple as a motiff for their wedding. The same tradition applies to almost all important occasions such as funerals and special events and holidays (e.g. International Women’s day, Labor day, Teachers’ day, inaugurations, company activities, etc.). The design chosen by the couple is a beautiful mix of colors: orange, green, blue, brown and white. Frank’s long sleeved shirt, Jolie’s little dress and my almost mini-dress (because the pagne barely made all three attires!) were made out of 6 yards of the wedding pagne. I was lucky to find a good couturiere who made our dresses appropriate for the day-activities of the marriage. Her creations highlighted the main shapes in the design and drew out the nice green color with an addition of another plain green material for Jolie’s dress and mine. I was very satisfied with her handiwork.

To differentiate themselves from the throng, the bride wore a beautiful ivory gown embroidered with hues of brown. The groom donned a traditional long-sleeved shirt and trousers also made out from the same material as the bride’s gown, but embroidered in another style yet taking the same brown colors. Their wedding costumes were simple yet elegant.

The ceremony

Zédou and Julie are Moslems so they got married by civil rites officiated by the mayor at the Hotel de Ville of Foumbot (town hall). Unlike other weddings I’ve been to, there was no “Here comes the bride” music to accompany the short march of the couple. They simply came into the wedding hall, arm in arm, the groom with a big smile on his face, the bride looking a bit disoriented and unsure. As they entered, the crowd of a hundred or so started to chant and make a strange happy noise to welcome the couple. As everybody settled down, the mayor started his job of making the marriage official. The mayor made the ceremony a little bit interactive by asking some of the guests to give out some advice to the couple. Only women-guests were brave enough to dole out pieces of advice: fidelity; patience; servitude; etc. Already the mayor was giving a sermon of what the bride must do and become which was making me cringe, that hearing these women heap more advice of the same kind had me whispering to Frank that what she’s becoming is a slave and not a wife! I was more confounded when asked by the mayor in which regime they wanted their marriage to work, and both groom and bride replied “polygamy”! Of course it was none of my business what happens to their marriage so it was good just to listen and to learn of an entirely different marital custom. After an exchage of vows, rings and a few kisses, the mayor pronounced the couple husband and wife with wishes of a good happy marriage!

The motorcade and reception

Part of the day program of the wedding was a motorcade of the bridal entourage and guests around the town of Foumbot.  Led by the bridal car containing the newlyweds, we followed the queue of cars driving at 10km/hr. Foumbot is a small town thus the motorcade didn’t last very long. It was also coordinated very well by the master of ceremony such that the motorcade did not cause any traffic jam in the highway. 500 meters before the end of the motorcade route the newly weds and all the other guests, got out of their cars and started a dancing march towards the Hotel de Ville  – under the sweltering heat of the sun at 41 degrees Celcius! Not to mention that the road was an uphill climb and the bride was walking/dancing on 5-inch heels! No, we didn’t join the street dancing; we drove on past the happy crowd to wait for them at the town hall.

The reception was held also at the town hall where the couple was just married. A simple fare was laid out for everyone to partake. During the reception, a group of local dancers, singers and drummers provided the entertainment. The singers were chanting well wishes to the couple and the guests. Some guests participated by dancing to the rhythm of the made-up songs and while doing so, other guests were slapping CFAs (Cameroonian money) on the forehead of the guest-dancers. The CFAs would eventually go to the singers and their group. At some point, one singer was egging on my husband for some francs and persistently so! Frank dutifully took out a 5,000 CFA-bill and slapped it to the singer’s forehead. The singer then had a huge grin on his face 😀

Finally it was time for FJJ to leave as we had planned to make a quick tour of Foumban to visit the Sultan’s palace, art museum and the artisanat. I discreetly told the master of ceremony that we wanted to leave but before that we wanted to give our present to the couple. We had wished to disappear quietly and unnoticed but with my husband being the DG of the company where the groom worked, going away could not be done inconspicuously. Instead the MC announced to the whole group that we were leaving and for this exceptional time, we could give our present to the couple (instead of giving it in the evening party as tradition dictates). So amid so much fanfare and cheers, we prodded our little girl to hand our present to the delighted couple. And to end a memorable day for them and for us, we had our photographs taken, each one with silly grins and smiles on our faces, except for Jolie who was looking not too happy with the task we just made her do.

Until the next Cameroonian wedding!

(Note: This article was contributed by Joy who has been living in Douala since Dec. 2009)

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My Douala is Moving!

“Moving” is an old boxing-club and I think the oldest gym in town. When I came to Douala three years ago there was another Swedish woman living here – Bibi  – and I was so fortunate to have her. When you’re totally new to a place, it always feels safe to see ”one of your kind”,  just somebody to talk to in your own language. Bibi took me to the women’s club that was called the ”Douala coffee morning” at that time, and it was such a relief to meet so many sweet and nice women. I remember I stayed until the bitter end collecting so many phone numbers. I was proud of my self, because it’s true, from a socialising point of view it’s really hard work coming to a new place. You have to find the strength and eagerness to keep on making new acquaintances. Nobody else will do it for you. Bibi showed me such a lot and she had friends that went to this gym called “Moving”; I went along with them and got charmed the very first time.

It’s not a posh place and you don’t have to be super fit or have the latest outfit when you enter this establishment. Just be yourself and work to your own ability. It suits me so well! I’ve been a trusty client all through the years. Sometimes I sit down and take a coffee after the class and chat with my gym-colleagues. I hear some gossip from other corner’s in Douala, not only from the expat-spots in Bonapriso and Bonanjo…this gives me an opportunity to feel I’m a part of the city and the country – even if it’s just for this morning-hour, it means a lot to me. I almost feel Cameroonian in this gym and it keeps my mind healthy, I think. I know that you can never be fully accepted, but if you can find some way where you can feel just a little bit that you somehow belong to the society you are living among, it’s good. At least, it’s important for me to slip away for a short time from the expat-community, that I nevertheless appreciate and like too.

My dear Bibi left only six months after I came to Douala. It was a bit hard, but also gave me a push to start meeting others. So now when I look back, I see it was perfect to have a Swedish super-guide at the beginning to prepare me to walk alone. As far as I know we are the only Swedish family in Douala, perhaps in all of Cameroon. I’ve never been to a place where I have met so many different nationalities. For me this is the true richness of Douala. So, I start off the day feeling like a Cameroonian, then at school (ASD) I’m an International, in my compound I’m more of a Francophone and in the evening I’m totally Swedish.

Vi ses! See you!

(This article  was contributed by Maria in the second issue of My Douala, the newsletter of DWIG)

 

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In Marché Congo

The pouring rain and the early hour have done nothing to stop the bustle in what is called the Marché Congo. I am here to buy some curtain rings and as usual I am struck by the other worldliness of the place.  I walk down one of the myriad alleys (mercifully protected from the weather) where the most astonishing variety of haberdashery goods is sold – here ribbons and tape, there buttons and thread, lace and beads. My port of call is empty so while I wait for the vendor, I have a chance to soak up the atmosphere. Next door the lady selling lace has such a compelling face I wonder what her story is; the goods at the forefront of her shop look a little soiled but as I reach in to touch she gently brings forth much finer specimens covered in protective plastic. The selling protocol here is discreet, mannered and leisurely giving one plenty of time to browse with no obligation to buy. Closer to the street there is a man with a hand operated machine that looks like it has been salvaged from the Victorian age; he is making covered buttons in an exquisite fabric that the buyer has brought along with her – the work is done in minutes. As I watch, I cannot recall anywhere in my own “developed” country where such a service can be so readily accessed and not for the first time think about what we have lost with the march of progress. I catch the smile of the returning curtain man and make my purchase. Threading my way back to the car I sense the uplift in my mood – it is impossible not to be affected by the optimism in this fascinating market place.

 For safety reasons it is wise to go in the company of friends or with your driver when you visit the Marché Congo.  

(This article by Debbie first appeared in the first issue of My Douala, the newsletter of DWIG.)

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