Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cameroonian Snow Days

storm approaching
I worked for the Pittsburgh Public Schools for a LONG time and periodically in the winter school would be delayed or cancelled because of huge snow storms that dumped white stuff and ice on the city making it dangerous for school buses (and cars, of course) to get around.  Well, this week we have had the Cameroonian equivalent twice – torrential rain.

With tropical rains, often the skies open and dump buckets of rain in a short amount of time (as I noted in my blog two weeks ago).  Still, usually for an hour or so it rains really hard and then tappers off to a milder rain.  Not this week!  On both Monday and Thursday, the rains started just after dawn – between 6:30 and 7 – and continued – hard – until 10 or 10:30.  A LOT of rain can fall in that amount of time!  Near my porch where the water comes off the roof, there are often long puddles when it rains – naturally.  This week, we had puddles and lakes everywhere!  And where there wasn't a lake, the grass was like a swamp.  It fascinates me so I tried to get some during and after pictures.  Did you every try to take pictures of the rain?  It doesn't show up as well as snow does!  The after pictures are about 1 ½ hours after the rain stopped.  Already much of the water was soaking into the ground but the grass was still swampy and the mud lasts a lot longer.

Last night a second tree fell over.  This one had been located in one of the temporary lakes.  (The other fell last week near Dr. Solofo's house.)  The root systems were just not able to keep them upright in the saturated soil.

Another funny weather story.  The people at Yazeka School called the Village School Program because there was a problem with the latrine.  I got the initial story third hand it wasn’t clear if lightning struck it, it imploded or exploded.  I saw Mathias today.  He said it was a latrine with a metal roof.  It was struck by lightning and the walls cracked.  No one was hurt; it can be repaired; and it is still usable.  The Parent Organization was concerned that the VSP would remove the school because the latrine was stuck by lightning.  Many people believe that many lightning strikes hit where they do because of witchcraft. The leadership team of the VSP did not believe that cause and assured people in Yazeka that the school would stay where it is!  After all, the metal roof probably attracted the lightning as the school is outside of town.  The school itself has a thatched roof.

Just like on a snow day, people who can stay inside do.  One would be soaked to the skin in about five seconds.  Everyone knows that activities are put on hold.  I, of course, didn’t go into town, but shop owners report that they don’t open at the usual time either.  Why bother when next to no one would come? 

So what did I do with my “snow days”?  I could do much of my work since it is inside with a computer (and the electricity and internet continued to work).  There were no people scheduled to come to work with me so that wasn't affected either.  (Note: the border is open and things have continued to be calm, but crossing the border takes much longer than usual.  Also, many of the people I work with have had other meetings or visits to churches/schools.)  Still, unexpected time deserves work on unplanned projects (in addition to regular ones). 

Monday I made bread pudding.  While I was in the US this summer, a new fancier bakery opened in Garoua Boulai.  I went in a while ago to check it out and was impressed with the variety of baked good offered, including whole wheat bread.  I bought some.  When I got home, I discovered it was so stale that it was inedible.  Sad.  I froze it thinking that it might work better when I took it out, but that didn't work either.  So, bread pudding.  I had made some a couple of times at Mom’s house while I was there.  It actually tasted good (although in my opinion it was missing something – besides raisins which one can find in Yaoundé but not GB).

Thursday, I spent a lot of time working on maps to show where the Village Schools are in western CAR.  I found a website called Mixsee which allowed me to create a map and also put pictures of the schools along with some other information.  It puts those little numbers like you see on other internet maps.  Cool.  I really like the result – and here is the link so you can check it out, too.

But, when I tried to print a copy I had trouble getting it onto less than 3-4 pages.  Not what I wanted.  So, having (or taking) some extra time, I decided to create my own map in Power Point so it would be one page.  I tried Google Maps, but they label very few towns in westerns CAR.  Mapquest was better – not all the towns I wanted, but lots of them.  It’s a balancing act, though.  You have to zoom in far enough to be able to see the town names.  Then there was a lot of cutting and pasting because at that level, you can’t get a wide enough area.  And, the map still can’t be too big to fit on the page.  I succeeded, but the names of the towns are tiny.  Oh, well.  I numbered the towns/schools.  In all cases but one the name of the school is the same as the name of the town.  (The school in Baboua is called Peouri.)  Now,I have a pdf version of the map which I will send/post when I send this blog.  By the way, thanks go to Joe Troester who found me the latitude/longitude coordinates for many of the towns more than a year and a half ago.  Thanks also to David Zodo, curriculum supervisor of the Village School Program who sat with me and a map to locate the schools that didn’t show up correctly with the coordinates. 

I am happy to have the maps done.  I went to town yesterday to see if I could copy the one-page map to give to my colleagues.  I knew that the town names were small and not very distinct, but he adjusted the darkness and created good copies.  Many thanks abound!

The US is heading into winter.  If you get a snow day, may it be a productive and enjoyable as mine have been!

Friday, October 10, 2014


How do you handle your week when 80% of your time must be rescheduled?  I find it discouraging, but am managing to adjust!  

So what happened?  Sunday and Monday mornings there were some classes between bandits and the Cameroonian military in Cantonnier, the Central African town just over the border.  I can’t even call them rebels.  These are people, mostly men, who have weapons and are using them to extort money and goods from those around them.  They seem to believe that they can do whatever they want, when and wherever they want.  They also don’t seem to recognize that there is a difference between CAR and Cameroon.  So, they don’t show respect for the border nor the Cameroonian soldiers.  The Cameroonians have responded strongly.  Part of the response has been to close the border – no one can cross.  I can say that I have been safe; the trouble was not in Garoua Boulai.  Mostly, I, as everyone else on both sides of the border, have had to adjust to the fact that people and goods have not been permitted across the border. 

So what did I do instead?  Well, I gave myself a haircut, but I am out of practice.  Of course, how can one say she is out of practice when she has done it only once before?  It is a challenge to cut your own hair using the bathroom mirror (having to account for the fact that the hand in the mirror is going the opposite direction…).  I also have decided that it would be easier with a third hand.  Still, I figure there’s not much risk in the process since hair grows back easily – and I am happier with it shorter!  (I have also discovered that I am not good at selfies. Taking them is less of a problem than smiling and looking even normal… I think I inherited it from my mother.) 

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) team was in GB for a couple of days. Anne Wangari (from Kenya) stayed in the guest room at my house.  We have some good conversations about their work, her past experiences, and current needs. 

I have also agreed to teach an extra class at the Bible School.  Two of the three regular professors are out of town for meetings/obligations.  So, I am using some of my extra time to help out (I offered) and to get ahead for when I have to be away and can’t teach my regular Wednesday class.  But, now that has been rescheduled, too.  The third professor told the students that he was called to N’gaoundéré for an emergency leaving at 4 a.m. It POURED rain this morning so the regular 7:30 a.m. meditation was delayed.  I went to talk to the students about 9:30 and they explained the situation to me.  I agreed to postpone my class so that they could go to find firewood to sell.  They need money to live since their living expenses have not arrived yet and the Bible School is being asked to give their Harvest Offering on Sunday.  

What else?  I have been working on planning lessons, talking to people on the phone, reading some books (for pleasure), and watching a couple of DVDs on my computer. 

I walked into town to the market and saw much more traffic than usual, including some large UN trucks headed to the Central African Republic.  The border has been reopened.  Good. 

Now that the border is open again, let’s hope and pray that the bandits have been convinced to stop their bullying behaviors and that people on both sides of the border can get the food and goods they need.  And, that I can go back to previously scheduled meetings!  (First one already rescheduled for tomorrow…)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Recent News

The past two weeks have been full of visits and work.    Several came for help in completing ELCA scholarship applications which must be done in English. None of this work is yet finished, but we made a dent in working together. 
Various Central African leadership teams came to work on reports and planning.

Last week Dr. Christa, who worked in both Baboua and Gallo, came for a visit from Germany.  She and I had not met (since she left several months before I arrived), but we had the pleasure of getting to know each other since she stayed with me.  Many Central Africans came to visit her – both at my house and in town.

UNICEF is digging a well at the hospital.  Hospital water needs have been filled from the same spring as the rest of the station, but they will now have their own well.  The new well will also supply the Doctors without Borders camp.  The hospital continues with other improvements, too.  For a couple of days, the sound of a chainsaw could be heard throughout the camp.  Workers were removing stumps and large roots.  The area (not far from the new well) has been leveled and grass planted.  Also, on the other side of this area, more latrines are being built and several more rooms will be fixed up.  They have also gotten more asphalt to pave part of the road leading from the hospital to the station. 

Yesterday, some ministers and other officials were in town for the grand opening of the new town hall.  I didn’t attend as I was working with Central Africans at the house.  The market and shops were closed Thursday morning to clean things up and Friday because of the activities.  Today is Muslims’ Feast of the Lamb.  The market was almost empty as Muslim-owned stores and stalls were closed (of course).  I went to the market this morning since I have not been for several days.  Fortunately, I went for sweet potatoes and vegetables.  There was only one meat stand open with a very long line. 

It is obvious that UN troops and materiel continue to go to CAR.  Most of them come by road through Garoua Boulai.  As I went to the market, I saw a large handful of big trucks loaded with little trucks.  May this bring the needed stability and peace to the Central African Republic! 

I continue to hear that most towns in the west (where the Lutheran Church is found) are peaceful and beginning to rebuild slowly.  The problem is the continued presence of bandits that sometimes stop cars along the main, paved road.  They extort money (most common), and occasionally kidnap people and burn the cars.  I am hopeful that more international troops will make the bandits leave the camp/village where they have been for several years.  Or, maybe they will be caught.  (Of course, with a non-functional judicial system, would that do much good??)

I got a new little table made for the living room.  Isn’t it beautiful?  It is solid and heavy! 

It continues to rain a lot and hard.  As I started writing the heavens opened and buckets fell – what we would call raining cats and dogs!  (I wouldn’t mind having a cat or kitten stay around for company!)  Within a very short time both my front porch and carport filled with people sheltering from the rain.  (I certainly don’t mind, but they talk loud!  Maybe it is to be heard over the rain.  I turned off the radio I had been listening to since I couldn’t hear it.)

Now the rain is slowing down.  Maybe it will clear so that I can walk into town – or maybe I will wait until tomorrow since so much is closed!

Tomorrow the new class of Bible School students and all the teachers will be presented at the Lutheran church that is closest to us.  We are asked to attend both the French and the Gbaya services.  It will be a loooong morning.  I often attend the French service (1 ½ - 2 hours).  The Gbaya one has more people and is usually significantly longer, especially tomorrow since there will be communion at both services.  And, the Cameroonian Lutheran church administration has moved pastors around, so tomorrow is the farewell service for pastor who is moving to another church here in Garoua Boulai. 

May you find peace in your daily life and work.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Roofing the Church, Part 2 and Other News

Roofing the Church, Part 2

Yesterday I had the chance to visit the Garouaseye Evangelical Lutheran Church here in Garoua Boulai.  This is the church that was to have a new roof put on with the group who was here from South Dakota.   I wrote about the trip in a blog on Feb. 26, 2014.  Then, the walls collapsed as everyone was working on the roof construction.  I am happy to say that the few people who were injured are well again and back working on the church!

I believe that the building will be even larger than the last time.  As you can see in the pictures, though, there is are many more supports and buttresses.  It looks solid and strong.  The workers had advice from an architect and others from N’gaoundéré to be sure the building would stand this time!  They are almost ready for the roof. I am including a photo of the current church for comparison.

Other News

Thursday and Friday the new Sous-Prefet for this region visited institutions and stores in town.  He came to the Protestant Hospital Thursday and the Bible School Friday.  (I happened to be at the hospital so was introduced there and then was present at the Bible School since teach one course there.)  There were about twenty people in the entourage and I didn’t want to take a picture of him/them.  (Too many military and police to do that without express permission!)  I did take a picture of Bible School people.  The first photo shows the new Director (and Regional Bishop) Garga-Zizi; the Accountant and teacher Pastor Nguia; and a new professor Pastor Djomo (who came from N’gaoundéré).  The other picture is the 16 new students who will train to be catechists.  There should be 17 in the picture since Leonel who started last year is also present.  I am happy to see that there is one woman in the class.  (Not enough for me, really, but better than none.)

I spent more time shopping in the market the other day.  (No pictures; I didn’t think of it.)  Not only do some butchers have new tile tables, the center part of the market has the old tables with more butchers selling meat. I hear that they will soon be getting tile counters as well – they are being made, I’m told.  The women who sell manioc, greens, and other items, as well as some men who have small tables of miscellaneous items, have been moved outside the major square of stores. There is more room there and covered wooden stalls are being constructed.  There seem to be many more sellers overall – must be the increased number of people in town because of the refugees and other Central Africans.  Similar choice of items for sale, just people more selling it.

I put maps on the walls of my living/dining room/office.  I can now see CAR, Cameroon, the world, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Iowa, and Louisiana. (If those of you from Texas would like to be represented as well, please send a road map!)  What I did with my summer vacation…

Speaking of more…  There is more laundry drying on the lawn and fences near the hospital – because of the increased number of patients (many refugees) in the hospital and Doctors Without Borders Clinic.  There is also a lot more mud!  It has been raining – hard – daily, and often for hours.  These increased rains mean the dry season is almost upon us.  It will be easier to get around, dustier, and hotter.  And, a break from the mud.... 
Seasons will be changing soon in the USA.  I will miss the autumn leaves changing, but not the cold. J

Stay well.  Be active in service: God’s Work, Our Hands.  Pray for peace, especially in the CAR.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Wow. What an outpouring of support.
Yesterday, I was diligently working with a Central African who is applying for an ELCA scholarship.  (It is long and in English.  In addition, he must complete an even longer application for the institute where he wants to study.)  There was a knock at the door and there, to my astonishment, were 12 of my Central African colleagues from Baboua. (One more came later.)

They had come to express their condolences on the loss of my father and to welcome me back.  It is part of a “deuil.”  This is the French word for mourning, but includes going to visit the family who has lost a loved one.  People sit together to share the grief.  We sang a hymn in Sango.  I am still overwhelmed each time I hear the beautiful singing in harmony!  (One woman even found the hymn in the Sango songbook so I could sing along.) Then Dr. Antoinette and Pastor Tongo prayed.  We ended this mini-service with the Lord’s Prayer and a benediction. 

I cannot express enough how moved I was/am.  They all travelled 50 km. (30 miles) along a road that sometimes still has bandits that stop cars to demand money.  They all came.  They said I was far away when the traditional mourning time passed, so they came now.  It still brings tears to my eyes.  What an outpouring of support and love.  How thoughtful and caring.  God bless them all.

I have to admit that I took a little time to talk about current work issues. J  After all, for about ten days the telephone network in Baboua has not been working much.  Occasionally, I can have a one-minute conversation.  Literally.  After 60 seconds the call drops and I can’t reconnect.  Not a good way to get news or do work!  We were able to share news and set up some visits for longer meetings next week.  And, yes, after people left, Paul and I finished the work we needed to do for the scholarship application.

I am so privileged to work with such a dedicated and supportive team.  

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Changes in Garoua Boulai

I am back home!  I arrived in Garoua Boulai Monday evening about 7 p.m. after a full day of travel from Yaoundé.  Willie Langdji came, too, for various meetings.  So, the next few days were full of meetings many of which I also attended.

Four members of the Central African Evangelical Lutheran Church came for meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday to evaluate Humanitarian Aid efforts so far and plan next steps.  We also discussed various other aspects of their work and our partnership.  There were also meetings about the station, ELCA finances (I got to meet the new administrator SANDA Elie), and about the palm oil farm project run by the Bible School here in Garoua Boulai.

Dr. Solofo & Willie

We also visited the Protestant Hospital to see changes and planned changes.  About ½ of the patients are currently refugees from CAR.  For some time MSF (Medecins Sans Frontiere – Doctors Without Borders) have been partnering with the hospital.  They are using, and have greatly extended, the hospital’s nutrition center.  What impressive work they do!  They have about 245 workers in this camp, the local state hospital, and the refugee camp at Gado.  Their main work is treating malnourished children.  If the children have other illnesses as well as malnutrition, they are brought to the CNTI (Nutrition Center) at the hospital.  First their illness is treated and they the focus shifts to the malnutrition.  A family member, often the mother, stays with each child.  MSF is currently treating between 80 and 90 children at the center, receiving about 30 new cases per week and releasing about the same number.  I have always been impressed with the dedication and quality of their work, but I must stay, I am even more impressed seeing it up close.  I can say, too, that the hospital is growing and changing to effectively handle all the additional work.  Thanks to ELCA, MSF, and other emergency aid, many more people are being healed. 

Since Willie left Thursday morning, I have had met with various other people and talked to more on the phone – reestablishing contacts.  Yes! (Fist pump here…)  Today I am meeting two Lutheran World Federation people who are coming from N’gaoundéré and will also visit Bertoua.  They are looking at Cameroon’s needs because of the high number of refugees.  They will visit the hospital and MSF center and meet with the regional bishop of the Cameroonian Evangelical Lutheran Church. I’ll be helping interpret for this meeting.

Unfortunately, I have had limited contact with leadership teams in Baboua.  The telephone network has been down for more than a week.  On two different days I have had a 1-minute conversation with someone before the call dropped with no possibility for reconnecting.  Maybe it will be fixed soon…

I have been able to walk into town on several days, but each time had to cut the time short and hurry home because of the threat of rain – which began to fall as I walked home or just after I got here.  Here are some changes I have noticed in these brief times:  The meat stalls in the market are now tile instead of wood!  A great improvement since the wood took in the blood, juices, etc.; I am sure germs prospered – and it sure stunk!  These tile stalls will be much easier to clean and much less germ-producing.  (I have not yet bought any meat – or much else in the market since food was provided on Tuesday and Wednesday and since then I have eaten some left overs.  Today I have to start cooking again… 

June and Phil Nelson have returned to their home in North Dakota.  I am grateful to have been able to buy a lamp (no light bulb yet – it’s one of the things I haven’t yet gotten from town), iron, and microwave from them.  Yes!  Now I need to figure out how to run the microwave (written in Norwegian or some language I don’t understand). 

I am also having a small table made for it to sit on.  Currently it takes up 1/3 of my limited counter space.  If I were in PA, I would head to the thrift store or maybe a furniture store for a suitable table.  Since those don’t exist here, I’ll have it made!  I am having another smaller table made, too, for the living/dining/office area. 

I have decided that I want to decorate some walls (not yet sure where) with maps of places I visited this summer as well as CAR and Cameroon.  Personalize things a bit and help me remind me of where I work and where supporters are.  Picture at some later date…  Here’s a picture, though, of the hood of the truck closest to the house.  Who can resist using a dirty truck/car as a drawing board?? (Done before my arrival… and I did wash it off…)

I am also rearranging and unpacking and getting reoriented to life and work here.  I can say, for sure, that I am pleased to be back.  The welcome has been very warm.  It is good to be home. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014


Buying a Computer
So, what do you think about when you want to buy a computer?  Here are some possible questions: 
online or in a store?  How much RAM?  Which features?  How fast?  Mac or PC?

Buying a computer is a different experience in Yaoundé.  One must go to a reputable store because a lot of computers are sold with pirated software that can cause problems in the long run.  And, online orders would most likely be stolen.  That means, there are a lot fewer choices of models.  The first store we went to had only two HP models.  The next store had about ten models of varying power and price.  Both times the primary criteria was price with some consideration of features. 

Ah, price.  Nothing is fixed here and I am not a good negotiator.  I get fed up and just want to pay whatever; I am sure that is because I didn’t grow up with this system.  The process is also a question of patience.  Fortunately, Willie Langdji went with me.  He has bought them before for programs and is a good haggler.  We finally bought an Acer machine with case.  The starting price was 350,000 and we got it for 280,000 with a (Toshiba) case thrown in. And, a can of juice for each of us once the deal was struck.

So why buy it here?  Computers may be cheaper in the US, but they are all in English.  Here the operating system and software are in French – better for those using them here.  The power cord is also set for the electric system here.  And, that’s 5-8 pounds less weight to carry on the trip over! 

This computer was purchased with money from my home church, East Liberty Lutheran Church, designated to help with computer training for the Central African Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Next, once I am in Garoua Boulai, I’ll think about the logistics of the class.

I have done less walking in Yaoundé than Brussels, but still try to walk as I can.  Mostly that has meant walking along a very busy main street.  Yesterday, about a ten-minute walk from the house, I walked past a brewery.  I think this is where they make several varieties of beer: Castel, 33, Beaufort, Mutzing, and a dark on like Guinness (at least these are the beers generally available).  The large Coke can out front tells me they may also bottle those products and other sodas.  The other day we saw a tanker truck taking liquid from one side of the road to the other.  It is a huge place.  Here are a few pictures.  Make you thirsty??

Many roads in Yaoundé are paved, but some are not.  And, the paved ones sometimes have pot holes (the unpaved ones certainly have many ruts and holes).  I am happy to see that there is one completed newly-paved road and another in process.  Here’s a picture of some of the equipment.  As they work on the road, cars can’t pass (usually), but motorcycle taxis do weave among the workers and equipment to deliver passengers…  There also seems to be a lot of building construction.  Progress?!?

On my walk, I stopped in a grocery store – not because I needed something, but just because.  For bigger stores here (not the little boutique kind), there is often a bakery at the entrance.  You can buy bread, cakes, and pastries.  Then you enters the main part of the store (past the check-out counters).  They sell lots of canned and packages goods.  Some stores sell veggies and fruits.  What I think is interesting is that if I don’t pick up a basket, very soon an employee brings me one.  Then, sometimes, that person follows me around carrying the basket – as a service.  So different than the US when you are only followed around if the employee thinks you are shoplifting...  I can’t say I am comfortable with the help!

To Garoua Boulai

Tomorrow Willie and I head to GB.  There will be meetings with church leaders Tuesday and Wednesday then he will return to Yaoundé and I will begin to settle into my “regular” work.