Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lunch at Sita Behle's in Souza

The road to Souza
While we were in Cameroon in February, I finally traveled to "Abo," the region where my mother-in-law was born. Unfortunately we were not in her village in the northern part, but in Souza (Abo-Sud) to visit the cassava crop farm I wrote about in an earlier post.
Sita Behle
In Souza, we met Sita* Behle, who welcomed us with a big smile. Not knowing visitors were coming, she had not dressed up or anything, but that was the least of her worries! When I asked if I could take her picture, she readily agreed.
By the time we finished visiting the cassava crop farm, it was incredibly hot, and it was lunchtime.
Souza's "green house"
Sita Behle's house is the original "green" house--the exterior wall is covered with greenery, an unexpected sight. I was standing outside and realized that everyone else in my travel group (5 people in all) had entered the house, so I followed them inside.
Palm nuts
Sita was in her kitchen, a traditional Cameroonian kitchen. The village doesn't have running water, not to mention electricity, stoves or refrigerators. I asked her, in Duala, which most Abo (Bankon) people speak, what was she cooking? She told me "Fufu--do you want some?" To which I answered, yes, most certainly, and we all ended up at her dining room table, eating freshly ground fufu (made from cassava), with a palm nut sauce with bits of dried fish in it. Palm wine was also brought, which helped the good mood even further.
At the lunch table
Sita sat with her husband of many years; they were joking and teasing each other. When we asked them since how many years they had been married, they laughed and said they couldn't recall!
Traditional kitchen

Fufu with yellow palm nut sauce

Young cassava plant
We left their home, not only satiated but happy from the good cheer and the pride we encountered.

*"Sita" is derived from the English word "Sister" and is a respectful and familiar way to address a woman.

Palm wine being poured
Sita Behle after visit, in new outfit

Monday, February 20, 2012

Reunion with Koko Komegne, artist

Koko in the Doual'Art garden
In 1987, when I was living in Cameroon and practicing as an architect with my spouse, Epée Ellong, we were asked to rehabilitate the cafeteria of the University Center of Dschang in West Cameroon. It was a Soviet-style building, squat and chunky; the Soviets were not present in Cameroon any longer.
Epée Ellong redesigned the exterior to reflect the region's artistic heritage by creating African masks using marble residue.

I don't recall how we met Koko Komegne, but we heard that he was a talented painter. We commissioned him with painting frescoes in the cafeteria interior--which he did in record time. The eleven frescoes are based on a jazz theme--another of Koko's passions is music.

University Center of Dschang cafeteria

It had been years since I last saw Koko Komegne. Fortunately a few years ago I read about him online. He is still living in Douala, and I obtained his cell phone number. (In Cameroon, most people now use cell phones rather than land lines, as it is very difficult to obtain a land line and if the invoice is outrageous, there is nothing to do but be cut off.)
I called him and we made an appointment to meet at the cultural center, Doual'Art, in Bonanjoh, near the historical Pagoda building.
A Koko Komegne painting in our NY apartment

Although the life of an artist is often difficult all over the world, and Koko's is no different, he has been keeping busy these past years. Among other events, in 2006, the French Cultural Center commissioned a book about Koko's work, with articles by a variety of authors. (Unfortunately, the book is out of print.) He also recently designed a statue for a Douala roundabout.

More about Koko's life and work can be found on Wikipedia.

Koko and other Cameroonian intellectuals: Lionel Manga,  Ntone Edjabe, and  Jean-Pierre Bekolo

Espace Doual'art 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Back to Africa

With our cousin's mom, who is wearing
 a traditional Duala Kaba.
Finally I returned to Africa in January--not for good (yet), but at least I was finally able to go. I'll be writing several posts about the trip, which only lasted 2 weeks, but was full of food (lots of food to catch up!), travel, and meeting with old and new acquaintances. I'll also update older posts with additional photos. Here is a photo of our cousin's mom with me.