Well, here we are on the ninth day of our journey, and we continue to add to our virtual scrapbook of amazing experiences. A few recent meals have been especially unforgettable, though for very different reasons.
For starters, it’s important to understand a little about dining etiquette in Cameroon. When a guest joins a Cameroonian, it’s custom for the guest to eat first—and completely—before the rest of the group. This was a custom we had noticed in our first two visits to our farming groups. To the team, this custom felt somewhat like a barrier to interactions and communications, but we wanted to be respectful of our hosts’ customs.
During our final farm visit, this time to Bamendankwe, we asked to respectfully break from tradition. Each American asked one or two dairy farmers to join us in the food line and sit with us while we all dined together. While it was uncomfortable for the Cameroonians we were dining with, it was tremendously more effective for connecting to the people.
We were able to learn about their lives and the similarities we all have. The gesture was seen as a sign of friendship by the group, and we were all extremely pleased to enjoy the valuable time together. We know we will always be welcome back to their group, and in turn they would enjoy keeping in touch—with a potential visit to the United States in the future.
The subject of dining was also at the heart of another recent team adventure. While there are many animals within Heifer International’s scope for the country of Cameroon, our team was particularly interested in learning about the cane rats listing after seeing it on the project list.
While farming cane rats is specific to western Africa, it’s an animal that’s been driven to extremely low numbers in the wild. It gets its name from agricultural areas where, as you might guess, it feeds on cane plantation crops. And while it can be considered a pest on many crops, it’s considered a delicacy by the urban Cameroon population. Recently, Heifer has been trying to establish a domesticated cane rat movement in the area.
Our team visited a cane rat farm in Bamenda to learn about this interesting pilot project, with our focus on the care and growing of the rodent. We learned that cane rats can grow up to 35 lbs. and, although they have a rat-like tail, they physically look more like a large guinea pig or hedgehog, with diets consisting of grass and small amounts of grain.
While there have been minor successes, there are still many challenges when it comes to cane rat expertise. Some of the largest obstacles are inconsistent reproduction patterns and sudden mortality, which our veterinarians suspect is being caused by an unidentified virus.
While there’s a lot to learn about cane rats, our team did learn something quite valuable: how they taste. The group found the rodent meat quite palatable during our lunch on Saturday (the meal was served after multiple requests by our team). The overall reaction? Chewy and not much like chicken. Or anything else we know.
This concludes our time in Cameroon, Africa. We hope you enjoyed reading about our adventures as much as we enjoyed having them! Please continue to check back for our regular weekly posts on food production, hunger and sustainability.