Published: July 6th 2009July 6th 2009
Bayanga is a small town sitting on the banks of the Sangha River in the southern most part of the Central African Republic near the border of Cameroon and the Congo. There are several thousand people living here. Most came for to work for a logging company, which has closed leaving a lot of people with out jobs.
Most of the buildings are made from wood with bamboo leafs for roofs, but here are a few concrete buildings. Outside of town is where a lot of the BaAka (pygmies) live. Their homes are often constructed from sticks and bamboo leaves making an igloo like structure. There is a small center of town where there is a few small shops selling goods. The biggest is run by a Lebanese guy who seems some what out of place here.
The reason I have come to this random far away place is to visit my sister. She has been living here for about 11 months working on her anthropology Ph.D. research. She is studying duikers, which are small deer like creatures and don’t taste too bad either. The goal of her research is to determine whether the
hunting of duikers can be made to be sustainable as they are a primary food for local people, also so that people do not need to hunt protected animals like elephants and gorillas. For a good portion of her time here she has been the only white person living among the people (there are a few up at the WWF project). As such she has had to wear many different hats: Boss of ten local pygmies (they have a different social structure from what we are used. In terms that things are more based on sharing). Caretaker to all of her pygmies families as well, Nurse / Doctor providing both medicine and medical advice, philanthropist- helping out mothers who can not afford to take their kids to the doctor. In all I think it has required a great deal patience that I doubt I would have had. I do not think that a day has gone by where there were not people stopping by her house to ask for things.
A lot of the things I have said so far have sounded rather negative about Africa and perhaps from our point of view they are. There very nice things
as well. My sister has an adopted family and a large social network of friends who watch out and care a great deal about her. She thinks of the two kids next door as her kids and they call her mom. They eat with us and sleep at my sister’s house almost every night helping out with the chores as well.
Living at my sister’s house
Our house is probably one of the nicest in the town, which my sister rents for about $60 a month. It constructed out of concrete with a concrete floor and metal roof. This is in stark contrast to everything else around. There are two bedrooms and 2 other small rooms. One of which we call the bat cave as result of the thing that makes its nightly home there. The house sits on a dirt plot. It feels a bit like a farm, because there are random animals running around everywhere (chickens, pigs, goats). So there are lots of free range animals available.
The kitchen is a separate building made completely of bamboo. It has a small fire pit, but we mostly use a rechaud for cooking. Which ocassionaly explodes.
I managed to singe a good portion of my hair and eyelashes one morning while trying to blow out the flame. You have to get used to a different level of cleanliness standards here. There are large cockroaches running around everywhere and some really big spiders that live in the bamboo roof. I just never look up.
The question that I am sure is on everyone’s mind is: How do people take a crap in Africa? Well we do what everyone else does and poop in a hole in the ground. For most peoples cabinets (“toilet”) there is just a whole in the ground with wood covering it up. No one really uses toilet paper (I have not given that up since they do sell it here). Next to the cabinet is the shower, which is just another bamboo room with a few wood planks. To take a shower we just get some water from the well, using a bucket and some rope, heat a little on the rechaud and there is your hot African shower. I then just use a cup to pour it on myself.
As for food typically in the morning we have some bread.
A special treat for me is when we can find some eggs, which are not easy to come by. For dinner we often have rice or gozo (also called manioc or cassava and is staple in most African diets. It does not have much taste or nutritional value and have the consistency of dough.). We pair this with either some of local plants (coco leaves, dried manioc leaves, or budu leaves) or occasionally some meet (dengbe- my sisters research subject or chicken)
There are two main groups of people here the Bantu (Bilo) and the BaAka (pygmies), and unfortunately there does seem to be some discrimination between the two social groups. One of things that I still have not gotten used to is the extremes in which people are dressed. You can see everything from kids wearing rags or nothing at all or people who might not be that out of place walking around Denver (there are not a lot of these ). Oh by the way, Obama is huge over here and you can see his picture is on T-shirts and jeans every where.
Everyone here has been very friendly. You can not really
walk more than 20 yards with out someone saying hello or a little kid running up wanting to shake your hand.
Well in the US the scariest thing you usually hear people talking about having is the flu. Over here it is a little different. To start with most people have malaria. My anthropologist friend Olivia who lives in the pygmy village about a 20 min walk from my sisters has told me a long list of scary things that are around: Tuberculosis, Hepatitis, Meningitis, Dyssentary, and Leprosy. Not to mention there are several parasites i.e. worms, which is often why you see little kids with bulging bellies. Just the other day Olivia’s husband had something rather gross living in his foot.
There is not a lot of health care here and people usually can not afford it. My sister says the doctors at the local hospital are less than reliable. There is one other nurse who is not too bad and is where my sister usually goes.