[Since writing this article, Rachel, like many of us, has seen changes to her routine. She is used to that, though. Click the link at the bottom of the page to read her thoughts about flourishing through uncertainty.]
It doesn’t matter where you live in the world, or what your responsibilities happen to be; life inevitably falls into some sort of a routine. You may be wondering what a typical day is like for a linguist in rural Africa, so this is some of the routine of my life.
I typically wake up shortly after 6 o’clock, when the roosters have been crowing, light is beginning to infiltrate my room, and traffic is starting to pass on the road just outside my house. I usually have a fairly quiet and peaceful start to the day, although this morning I had a knock on the door not long after 7 o’clock… Ibrahim, the little boy from next door, was standing on my veranda in his school uniform with his school bag, looking up at me. I said hello and waited for him to tell me what he’d come to talk about. He just smiled. I said, ‘So, you’re going to school?’ Again, he smiled. Eventually, he spoke. ‘I want to say goodbye before I go to school.’ And with that, he was off! So it didn’t turn out to be a significant interruption!
Usually I leave my house around 8 o’clock and start to walk along the road, hoping that before too long a passing motorbike will stop and be able to take me to where I work. Before I hop on, we negotiate the price and I check the driver knows exactly where to drop me. The first part of the journey is on a surfaced road. The last part is on a dirt track, which is pretty bumpy, but takes us through a beautiful lush valley, which always looks stunning in the early morning light.
When I arrive at the office, my first job is to greet my colleagues. In Cameroonian culture, when you arrive at work, at someone’s house, or at any social gathering, it is extremely important that before you sit down, you go around everyone in the room, shaking hands and exchanging greetings.
The ‘Ndop office’ was once a fairly large, unfinished house, which has now been turned into a space we can work in. We work with about ten different languages here, all of which are spoken on the Ndop plain in Northwest Cameroon, but unfortunately we can no longer live there. Some of my Cameroonian colleagues are able to travel back and forth from the area, though.
We have a break in the middle of the morning for tea which is kindly provided by the lovely Patricia, who lives next door to the office. She also cooks for us at lunch time. A typical lunch could be ‘fufu and njamanjama’ (corn porridge and leafy greens) or ‘jollof rice’ (a tasty rice dish with vegetables). Patricia is the very epitome of hospitality and loves to feed people! Recently, she was ecstatic when we finally got running water at the office (previous to that, she or her children had to carry water from a neighbour’s well):
I am working with a lady called Confidence – she comes to the office a couple of times a week usually. She is helping me to work through a series of ten recordings in the Wushi language. I am transcribing them (writing them down) and also analysing them (trying to work out what is going on in the language in terms of vocabulary and grammar). Next week, David, who I worked with when I lived in Babessi, is planning to travel here to work with me for a few days. The office has some accommodation for people like him who need to stay overnight when they come to work here.
I usually leave the office at around 4 o’clock and sometimes stop off at the market on my way home if I need to do any shopping. I am very happy getting motorbike taxis around. Perhaps the photo below shows why I’m less keen on public transport involving a car:
Once I get home, the first thing I do is collect water from the well which is just a stone’s throw from my house:
Having a place of my own to come home to in the evenings is such a blessing. I’ve gradually made it comfortable and homely, and it’s nice having a spare room which means I can have guests. I currently have my colleague Jane staying with me for a few weeks. We share an Anglo-Irish appreciation of a well-made cup of tea! It’s one of those simple yet profoundly comforting rituals from our home culture: sitting down for a cup of tea and a bit of a chat – we sometimes end up unravelling the complexities and frustrations of the day...
I have a ‘bucket bath’ in the evening – I crouch in a large basin and pour water from a bucket over myself. It’s a fairly basic system, but it works, and it certainly makes me appreciate hot showers in a way I never had before! (When I’m in the capital city, Yaoundé, the SIL accommodation there has hot running water, which always feels so luxurious!)
My electricity supply is fairly good but it is not reliable, so I have solar lamps (which I charge with small solar panels during the day) to use in the evenings if need be. I also have a good supply of candles… for reading in bed! We’re coming to the end of the dry season, so the days are still hot and sunny. Even at night time, the sky is cloudless. Sometimes I like to stand on my veranda at the end of the evening to enjoy the cool air and the beautiful array of stars above me. One of the advantages of power cuts is that the night sky looks even more spectacular!
So, voilà! That’s a day in the life of a linguist living in rural Africa! I haven’t included everything, but hopefully it’s given you a little glimpse into my day-to-day life here.
I’ll leave you with a photo I took recently as I was wandering along a road near my colleagues’ place, waiting for a motorbike taxi to pass... It gives you a sneaky peek into one of the ‘palaces’ in this area. In Bamileke culture, this is of huge cultural and spiritual significance – it’s the place where the local traditional leader lives:
Rachel is from Northern Ireland and has been working as a linguist in Cameroon since 2017. She is working with the Ndop cluster of languages, where the goal is to translate the New Testament into all ten languages. Rachel has been studying one of the languages where translation work has not yet begun because the writing system still needs to be developed.