Thursday, August 27, 2015

Vacation

Still on vacation and taking a break from writing! All is well

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What is a birthday?

Cake and ice cream...party… candles… celebrating another year of life – or trying to ignore the increasing number of year…  Yep, birthdays!

Yesterday was my birthday.  It is the first time I have spent it in Cameroon; the other years I have been working here, I arranged to be on vacation and to spend it with family and friends in the USA.  It is interesting to me, being in Garoua Bouali this year, to reflect on some differences.

First, it strikes me that the country (the US) that makes the most of birthdays is also the one that most fears, or at least visibly fights against aging! Birthdays count off the years.  They mark us getting older.  But the can also be a lot of fun!

Birthdays are not generally celebrated in Cameroon.  Some people, especially those born in villages, in fact, don’t know the date they were born. 

So, how does someone from a birthday-celebrating culture mark her birthday in a non-celebrating one?  With a mixture of things, of course!

I decided that instead of making a cake, I would make ginger cookies (one of my current favorites). Then, I shared them with friends and colleagues, sometimes mentioning my birthday, sometimes not. 

I also invited the Bible School staff and students who are currently in town (about 40%) to stop by for a beer.  I didn’t mention my birthday at the time of the invitation.  Then, the next day I found out that the current director is being sent to teach in the Bible School in Meng.  So, the get-together became a farewell for him, as well.  When I issued the (verbal) invitations, I was thinking that the third was Tuesday, so these friends are coming today.  Can a party be “late” if it is the one with the birthday got confused on the day??  Yes, I will mention my birthday as I give out cookies… 

I had the material that I was given during the installation of the new president and vice-president of EEL-RCA made into a dress.  Here’s the picture of me in the dress with the woman who made it standing beside me.

Note:  I continue to struggle to find a tailor who can make something to fit.  The last two times I emphasized that I don’t like things to be too tight, so I got tents.  Sigh.  I am convinced that people don’t really learn to tailor; they just get a sewing machine and learn to operate it.  They often know that they need to take measurements, but then don’t know how to translate those into garments that fit.  Ah, well, I am supporting the local economy in having things made – and wide is more comfortable than can’t-breathe tight!


I also called and talked to Mom – she who gave me life!  I got lots of greetings by email and Facebook, too.  My sister Janet even sent me a recording of the birthday song sung by her, her husband Kent, and their son Nate who also played the piano!  I felt like I was standing by the piano in Philadelphia!  (Here’s a picture of Nate dressed up for the prom several months ago. Handsome guy!)  I really appreciated all the contact as the situation in CAR is worse again which is hard for me emotionally.  (I can only imagine how much worse it is for those living with it.) I appreciate the prayers and support from friends and family.  

Monday, July 27, 2015

Youth Gathering, from the Sidelines

Sunday, July 19th through Sunday, July 26th the 8th National Youth Bible Camp of EELC (Église Évangélique Lutherienne du Cameroun – the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cameroon) took place in Garoua Boulai.  Between 250 and 300 Lutheran youth from all around Cameroon attended.  I
didn’t attend events, but saw parts of what was happening since they met at the Bible School near my house and the Central Lutheran Church.

Where would you lodge all these young people??  Remember GB doesn’t have hotels and motels like most towns this size in the US.  There is one hotel and various guest houses, but they are more expensive than the church would want to spend.  Church members hosted some; some stayed in the Bible School students’ houses (since they are in their villages for the summer) and some stayed in the Bible School itself with church members lending the mattresses for the last two places. 

The theme for the camp was “The youth of EELC and the preservation of peace in Cameroon according to 2 Timothy 2:22-26.”  Youth attended conference sessions, worshiped together and went into the community to listen to members or those with difficulties.  (They prepared a list so that the catechists and pastors can follow up with these people in the future.)

Two evenings they met on the lawn outside the Bible School for music and some speeches.  Thursday evening it went on until about 10 p.m.  The sound system was a good one – they could have been in the living room with me! (And, there weren’t a lot of distortions even with it that loud).  Saturday night they wanted to sing, dance and pray all night, but (fortunately for me) it rained.  They started, took a break for some heavy rain, started again, and had to quit again when more heavy rain fell.  They had a bonfire that night, too.  Too bad (for them).  I wouldn’t have been happy had they gone all night, but having more time together would have been good for them!

Imagine preparing food for so many people for a week!  Yes, caterers do it in the USA, too – and 300 is a lot less than the 30,000+ that went to Detroit!  But, here the women prepared all the food over wood fires outside.  That’s a challenge at any time, but especially in the heart of the rainy season.  I found out that the Mayor of GB donated a cow (to be butchered and cooked!) I know that in the US I don’t think about where the meat for so many people comes from.  Here, you buy the whole animal – or several of them for lots of people and lots of meals!
 

The camp ended with the worship service Sunday.  Most of the youth attended the French service at the Central Lutheran Church (where I usually attend).  A few who live the furthest away – Douala and Yaoundé, for example, left early Sunday, but most participated.  What a joyful service.  Lots of singing and celebrating.  At one point all of the youth who participated went upfront to sing a song. Most of them were wearing the t-shirts they had been given – sort of sounds like Detroit, no?!  This picture captures most of the youth, but the ones on the edges were cut off!  It was a lot of kids.


Interesting note:  The sanctuary has large windows in the front; parts of these are open air so it is not unusual to see small birds flying around near the front.  As I tried to take a picture of them Sunday, I ended up getting the beginnings of a wasps nest – and later part of the bird’s nest in the rafters! All God’s creatures got a place in the choir! (or at least in the church.)


It was fun watching from the sidelines. Here’s a picture of a bus some youth rented.  I hope that everyone who attended was able to travel safely home with great memories and inspiration as they work for peace in Cameroon.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Bamenda, Part 2



Bamenda is a city in western Cameroon – in the Anglophone part.  This past week, I spent a week there for the Advanced Trauma Healing workshop.  (I had been there last August for the first one – you can look for the blog entry about that…)  It is a town nestled in a valley at a higher elevation so that the weather is cooler (but not cold for me).  I have to admit that I in neither visit did I have a chance to visit much of the town.  The seminar was held at the CABTAL center, the Cameroonian Bible translation center, about four miles from the downtown. We met from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. (with breaks, of course!); then, since I was helping to lead the sessions, I met with the two other presenters for ½ - 1 hour at 5p.m. to review the day and plan for the next one. Not much time for other visiting.  (Remember it gets dark about 6:15 – 6:30 p.m.) We did go for a walk several times so I saw a bit around the CABTAL center…  We also had time for a little Corn Hole; it was the first time many of

the participants had played, but they got pretty good at it.

The seminar went very well.  It is designed for people who attended the first Equipping Seminar and who had already taught at least one Healing Group.  During this week, 24 participants had the chance to teach in front of peers to get feedback.  The participatory learning required by the program is a big change for most people, but overall, they did well.  They also got some additional information about each of 11 lessons, reflected on the group they led, planned their next steps, and socialized!  Six people attended, but followed the track of the first course, joining the larger group for some activities. 

The other presenters were Margaret Hill, one of the authors of the books we use, Trauma: How the Church Can Help who is based in Nairobi, Kenya.  She also works with SIL, another Bible translation organization.  The other facilitator was Frank
Cole, a retired doctor from Britain who travels a couple of times a year to help facilitate seminars and works with the program through his home church.  I had met both people at the first seminar I attended last year.  I had also met most of the participants, either at the Bamenda seminar last year or at the Equipping Workshop I helped lead in Yaoundé in March.  (There’s a blog entry about that, too, if you’re interested.)  It was fun seeing people again. (Hey, Mom, here’s a picture of one of the new dresses I had made just before this trip.)


About ten of the participants (and three of the facilitators) came from Yaoundé so we rented a van.  This is a van that would generally be used for bus service, but the driver and his assistant picked us up (at three locations) instead of us having to get tickets and then getting ourselves to the bus station.  He also dropped us off at CABTAL instead of the bus station in Bamenda.  It was certainly more convenient.  The van was older (and a little uncomfortable) but we got there safely.  The trip takes about eight hours.  Much of the road is paved.  First we were on the road between Yaoundé and Douala; once we turned off toward Bamenda part of the road had recently been repaved and was great!  Then, we got to the section near the town that is not paved, rutted, and slow.  Hopefully they will work on that soon since the entry road into Bamenda has been recently paved.  The picture shows the driver’s assistant taking the tarp off the suitcases to unload.  (Tarps are essential in the rainy season to keep this dry, but also in the dry season to keep off some of the dust.)

One of the favorite foods around Bamenda is fufu-corn and njama-njama (sp?); we had it a couple of times during the week.  And, when we got back to Yaoundé Jackie Langdji prepared the same dish!  (There family is from that area.)  She cooked the fufu-corn in banana leaves while the cooks in Bamenda prepared it and put it in plastic bags.  As you can see in the picture, the dish is made from greens. In the Yaoundé version, Jackie added chicken; in Bamenda it had beef.  Tasty! 

On the way back a week later, we had a different, newer van, but, basically, the same trip in reverse.  We made slightly better time, but stopped several times to buy farm products for sale along the road.  We could have had a whole salad!  One place they sold avocados, another green  peppers, another carrots, another tomatoes!  The Bamenda grows much of the food for the country one participant (from that area) said. 

When we were in the outskirts of Yaoundé, we ran out of gas!  This is not something one would expect in the US (well, not in Cameroon either although I think it might be more common here).  Fortunately, the driver was close to a place to buy enough gas to get us to a station so we were only delayed ten minutes.  We passengers stretched our legs and chatted.

I got back to Langdjis house about 3:30. Frank stayed with me for a few hours until he left for the airport and England.  The next morning I got up early and drove with Garoua Boulai with the Bishop Ngembe and a young man headed for the Youth Gathering that started yesterday here in GB.  There are lots of people around, but not 34,000 as they had in Detroit!

On the way back, I met briefly with a woman from a church in Bertoua to talk about the possibility of my helping them with some planning.  The bishop also met someone in another town.  Still, the trip was quick and uneventful – another 8 hours…  We only had rain for the last 10 km.  It was heavy at times and when we got to GB, rivers of water were running along the sides of the road.  I’m glad we didn’t have that the whole way!  It is the rainy season, but I can be grateful for dry weather for driving.  

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bridges

Yesterday, I came to Bamenda in Anglophone
Cameroon to attend the Advanced Trauma Healing seminar.  It was raining as we left Yaoundé (in an old rented 19 passenger van with 14 people).  The seal around the window next to me was loose so some water dripped onto the seat beside me (and eventually on me…).  For these (and probably other) reasons I have been thinking a lot about the rain water that falls and where it goes.

We know that people build bridges over rivers and streams so that they can walk and drive more easily.  And, there’s obviously more water in the stream/river during the rainy season.  When we were in Bouar in June, I walked to see the new bridge that was just opened.  (In fact, the opening ceremony was Friday morning (while we were in other meetings.)  The builders created a channel for the stream that was lined with stones and concrete.  The bridge itself was also very sturdy-looking.  What struck me most, though, when I saw it Friday afternoon, was the mud just before the bridge.  I am sure that the dirt road was leveled after the bridge was built.  But, after a couple of hard rains, a HUGE area taking up most of the road had already become rutted and muddy, making it difficult for cars and trucks to pass.  Motorcycles have an easier time, but only if there are not motorcycles coming from both directions at once! 

Of course, not all bridges are well built – or well-maintained.  I remember driving to a school on a back road in CAR in 2012 when one of the Village School Program team members got out of the truck to go jump on the boards on the “bridge” to be sure we could cross with the truck! Here’s another “bridge” in CAR that was in serious need of improvement in 2012.  I imagine that it is worse now. 

So where does (or should) rain water go after it falls?  Road engineers I know plan to have it run to the sides. Some roads in CAR and Cameroon have paved (or unpaved) ditches built to catch the water.  Here are some run-off ditches – with a variety of “bridges” so that people can cross them to get to their houses. 





Not all roads are built with a slope that takes water off the road.  When the roads are dirt – not paved – that means that ruts infest the road and driving is difficult – even treacherous when it is raining and the dirt becomes slick mud. Local people sometimes try to fill the holes/ruts with logs, rocks, grass, and then dirt (all in an attempt to keep the road level and the water running off somewhere else).

While still in Yaoundé I was talking to a taxi driver one day about the number of people trying to cross busy streets.  There are street lights, but as in the US, some people in a hurry to cross, don’t pay much attention to the light and begin to cross as the light turns green for cars.  This driver recommended that the city build a pedestrian bridge.  Yes, good idea.  We have them some places in the US, but even then, people in a hurry and unwilling to walk a few extra steps, want to ignore them and just cross the street – even with all the traffic.  Do you use a pedestrian bridge when it is available? 

I hear Pennsylvania has been having torrential rains and lots of precipitation – like the rainy season here!  Have you paid attention to where all that rain water goes?  Maybe it is time to pay attention to details! 

Wishing you blue sky or at least clear sailing – with or without rain.


Friday, July 3, 2015

Meetings and the Installation

Happy Independence Day to all in the US!  It is not, of course, a holiday in Cameroon or CAR, but the Langdjis and I went out to eat at Café Yaoundé to celebrate today.  (We are not going tomorrow because Willie will be travelling.  We are not going this evening because Francois Holland, French President, will be in town (from 5 – 10 p.m.) and traffic will be impossible then!) 

So, you can see that I am safely back in Cameroon after about ten days in CAR.  The route, as expected, was long both ways, but uneventful.  Read the last blog entry backwards for our return 

trip…  I will add that we stopped in Berberati on the way from Bouar to Bangui.  Once again I noticed from the air that much of the ground is green, not developed with occasional small village.  The picture on the left is such a town with lots of “bush” around.  The other picture is Bangui from the air.    

So, what did we do?  Willie Langdji and I participated in meetings to assist in the transition from the out-going President and Vice-President of EELRCA to the new team.  The five members of the new team (President, VP, Secretary, Treasurer, and Financial Administrator) worked well as they considered the current state of the church.  Out-going President Goliké came for an hour to give his perspective and to highlight or provide more details for some issues identified. 

Next, the new team worked on developing their planning documents.  They were able to do most of the talking and planning with some organizational support from Willie and me.  I typed what was said into the planning form – mostly because I was the fasted typer there…  We used an LCD projector to show the work on a screen for all to see – “high tech” even! (And in a town with no public utility service; we used a generator for power.)  As the work took longer than originally planned (doesn’t it always?!?), the team agreed to add extra hours to get as much done as possible while we were together.  Through great cooperation we made lots of progress.  Toward the end of the time, we heard many expressions of thanks for facilitating this transition.  Leaders were also glad to have a plan to help them immediately start work in an organized, focused way.

Monday, June 29 we (the five EELRCA officials, Willie, and I) met with the National Church Council to help orient them, especially in relation to EELRCA’s Vision, Mission, Goal and three objectives (just clarified and strengthened the previous week).  About half the members have served before and the others were new.  They, too, appreciated the orientation. 

In and around these official meetings, Willie and I met with individuals to further plans for various projects.  Here Willie is talking with Catherine Naabeau, Director of the Health Center in Bohong and Coordinator of Health Services for EELRCA. 

During the weekend, official activities were held.  Saturday was the “Passation de Service” or official handing over of keys, stamps, books, official records, and authority from Outgoing President Goliké to Incoming President Samuel Ndanga-Toué.

I know that many of you don’t yet know Pres. Ndanga-Toué.  Here is a little background.  He is a 50-year old man who has been active in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Central African Republic for years.  He trained as a pastor and has done further studies in theology at the Master’s and Doctoral levels.  Some of his studies were completed in Geneva, Switzerland.  For the past few years he has been Director of the Theological Seminary in Baboua.  He will be moving from Baboua soon to live in the President’s house in Bouar (between the Administration Building and the ELCA guest house).  He is married and has five children. 


Sunday, during the regular liturgy, Pres. Ndanga-Toué was installed as President by Pastor Paul Denou (current pastor at St. Timothée in Bangui and former EELRCA President).  It was a four-hour service with lots of singing and sharing.  Gifts were given to the out-going and in-coming presidents.  Former-President Goliké spoke and the sermon was given by a pastor of the local Apostolic Church.  As is the tradition in CAR, several choirs sang and groups of people (for example, Ndanga-Toué’s family, people from Baboua, those from Bouar – including me, etc.) had outfit made of the same material.  After he was installed, Pres. Ndanga-Toué installed the Vice President, Pastor Rachel Doumbaye, and the National Church Council.
 
After the service, some women of the church prepared a meal that we shared in the large paillote (thatched hut) behind the administration building.  We ate and talked and celebrated. 

While I was in Bouar, I tried to go for a walk each day to stretch my legs and see a little more of Bouar.  This picture was taken on a misty morning, about 6:15 a.m.  Many, many people are out and
 about – already selling and buying at the market, headed to market, going to work, etc. Still, it was a calm, beautiful time.


And to end, a picture of our hotel lobby in Bangui – pretty nice huh?? Can you find my “hidden” picture??


Happy 4th of July to all.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Privilege

We have arrived in Bouar! Yes, the long way.  I realize, again, how fortunate and privileged I am to had this option. 

First, think of the cost.  I bought diesel fuel for the trip from Garoua Boulai to Yaoundé (and later will pay to go back) not to mention the cost of running the vehicle.  Sure, I could have taken a bus – cheaper and the way most Cameroonians would travel, but I have a car.  And, as we in the USA know well, driving is more convenient, faster, and less crowded!  Privilege. 

The next day Willie and I took the train from Yaoundé to Douala.  Yes, I had to stay overnight in Yaoundé – fortunately at Anne and Willie’s.  Then we had to get dropped off at the train station and there was the expense of the ticket.  We got first class tickets – 9,000 cfa (about $18) instead of 6,000 cfa (about $12).  It was comfortable.  (I didn’t see the second class so I really can’t compare effectively.)  We were served water and a sandwich.  Willie tells me that 1st and 2nd class riders get food.  Ah, to be able to afford a comfortable seat without having to drive.  Privilege.  OK, so we ran about a couple of hours late, but we didn’t have a meeting set or people waiting for us.

We stayed at the 3-start Planet Hotel in Douala – 55,000 cfa/night (about $110).  It was a beautiful place to be.  Very comfortable with free Wifi – like (or better) than many hotels where I have stayed in the USA, but this price is too expensive for most people here.  Privilege.

Both hotels had a Gideon Bible in the rooms.  This made me think of my Uncle Gordon and Aunt Elaine (may she rest in peace) who are/were active in US branch of the Gideons, providing Bibles to travelers and others.

Then we flew from Douala to Bangui and later Bangui to Bouar.  Privilege.  The cost is out of the range of what most Central Africans, or Cameroonians, could pay although both flights were about ¾ full.  I am thankful that we could pay and use this (longer) safe way to travel.  Both flights ran about an hour late.  The flight from Douala to Bangui was with Karinou Airlines (a company from the CAR!)  I had not heard of them before.  We had an interesting snack:  4 pieces of whole wheat bread with no crust and tuna salad between the layers.  Not 2 sandwiches – tuna between 3 layers!  It looked like a brick of bread!  It tasted fine, but looked strange to me.  (It was served with soda and water.)  I enjoyed hearing announcements in Sango, French, and English.

I am grateful to Lutheran World Federation staff in Bangui who helped us in various ways:  their driver picked us up at the airport, had made us reservations at a hotel and for the UN flight to Bouar, and drove us to their office.  Staff also helped us get internet credit, find a place to eat in the evening, and put us in contact with a reputable taxi driver.  Hervé (the LWF driver) also picked us up in the morning (at 6:10!) to take us to the airport and shepherded us through the first part of the check-in process. They will also help us out on the way back.  Many thanks!


We had little time in Bangui, but we did stop to visit St. Timothy Lutheran Church, which is next to the airport.  They have a beautiful church building, parsonage, and a school within in their compound.  Since all of the recent troubles started, they have also been housing internally displaced people.  The structure you see in the picture and the water bladder were provided by UNHCR.  Pastor Paul Denou said that they are now “down to only” 93 adults and children.  Imagine.  How many of our churches could pick up this work and sustain it for more than two years??  It was a privilege seeing Pr. Denou again and seeing a bit of the work – even if it was only for about 10 min.  I like the sign they have next to a huge bladder of water: “Everyone has the right to water, but no one has the right to waste it.”  We should all take this to heart.


The next picture is Willie talking on the phone as he studies the menu in the Balafon Restaurant in Bangui.  We were drinking, Mocaf, the Central African beer!  It was a great place.  We were told later that is very popular with humanitarian aid workers.  They even have karaoke on Friday evenings!  Everyone needs time to relax and get away from strife and work, but how many Central Africans (not working for an NGO) could afford to come often to a place like this? 

It was a first for me to take a flight within CAR.  Currently flights are run by the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service.  It is present to assist UN and NGOs personnel get around more easily.  Our flight was to fly to Berberati, Bouar, and Bosangoa.  Another flight went to Kaga Bandoro and Ndele.  A third goes to Bambari and Bangasou.  We were told to report to the airport at 6:30 for an 8:30 a.m. flight.  Airline officials arrived at 6:45… 

I know we talk a lot about White privilege in the US – and probably not enough (nor have we done enough to equalize things).  I know, too, that I benefit from White privilege here as well – and in ways that are even more obvious than at home since I am part of a small minority. 

What we experienced this morning was privilege, but not just for Whites – of the 75 or so people travelling only 5-6 were White, but humanitarian aid privilege.  So, here’s the dilemma:  when a country is in crisis, NGOs and others come to help.  They need to be able to move around the country, but sometimes roads are not safe or are in very poor condition and sometimes people want to take less time traveling between places.  The UN has a Humanitarian Air Service to help out.  To use their service, one must be a humanitarian aid worker, have an “Ordre de Mission” (official letter stating where, when, how long, and why one is traveling) and a badge (or passport).  This is not a commercial airline; they can’t take anyone who wants (and can afford to) go.  But that sets up another inequity among those who come to help and those who live in the country where there is not commercial airline that operates within the country.  I am sure good work is being done, but how much say does the population have?  Are the “saviors” again coming with the answers to problems or are local people being empowered, trained, and supported?  This one example certainly lends credence to the tendency of aid workers to bring the plan, what they need for their comfort and work, and “do for” the “poor, suffering” people.  There were Central Africans who took the flights – those working for NGOs, but I was uncomfortable “qualifying” for the flight (since EELRCA is a member of LWF) while at the same time I appreciated the safe way to get to Bouar.

Much of the flight we couldn’t see much of the ground – no surprise since it is the rainy season with lots of clouds.  In fact, we were to stop in Berberati before Bouar, but couldn’t because of heavy rain there.  As we approached Bouar and came below the clouds, most of what we could see was green – forest, bush.  There were a few houses and buildings.  It was an interesting phenomenon to approach the airport and run way seeing nothing by green!  I never really paid attention to other cities where you see airport buildings and buildings of the city as you approach.  I had confidence that the pilot could see more than I could (like the runway…) and he could, but it was a bit disconcerting and felt like we were setting down in the middle of nowhere. This feeling was increased when I saw that the first half of the runway was dirt!  It was wide and flat and clear, but not paved.  Closer to the airport there was paving.  It was no surprise that the airport was a sign saying “Aerodrome de Bouar” and one building.  Lots of NGO cars were there to meet the travelers.  (We were met by Antoine and out-going President Goliké.)  The drive is about 12 km. on an unpaved but leveled road (no doubt done by the UN). 

It is good to be in Bouar and among colleagues.  As one person said, if there weren’t so many trees, we could see Garoua Boulai from here – too bad I had to come by way of New York!  It was the long way, but it worked.

Note:  UN troops are now stationed in a couple of villages between GB and Baboua.  They have also gone into the bush to disarm some people.  Some bandits have been killed or arrested.  The road is safe again, they say.  (Great, but we’ll go home the same privileged way we can – we have tickets after all!)