Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Items of Interest

Haircut: The thing about haircuts is that they have to be repeated!  I have been cutting my own hair, but getting the back part even is hard as is cutting while looking in the mirror since everything is reversed.  I decided to try to find someone to do it.  It’s only hair, after all, and grows back.  So, here’s the result.  It is definitely shorter.  Not bad.  Not exactly even, but probably more even than the times
I have cut it.  I took my own hair scissors and comb not being sure that Tutu would have them even though she a hair stylist.  She didn’t know what to charge me.  She said that styling and trimming a wig was 1,500 cfa ($3), but for natural hair???  (Especially hair that is so different from Cameroonian hair…)  She wouldn’t name a price and said to give her what I thought was best.  It only took about 15 minutes with me giving some basic instructions; I gave her 1,000 cfa ($2).  I can always trim stray pieces of hair myself – as I have been doing when I was my own barber.  The first picture is me sitting at my dining room/office table.  (I cropped it so that you can’t see all the dust that showed up well in the picture!)  The second was taken this morning shortly after the service of imposition of ashes for Ash Wednesday. A contemplative look – mostly what I get when I take selfies!

Quilt: I have been working on a project for a number of months – a quilt.  It is almost done. A Facebook friend periodically posts things about quilting and I decided to use materiel from dresses, etc. to create one of my own.  Don’t look too closely since there are lots of imperfections – which make it even more valuable to me.  I am doing all the work by hand.  My goal is to finish the binding this week.  Will I do another?  Not this large (double bed size).  It is too hard once I have to attach the backing and binding.  I understand now why people have quilt frames so they can get to both sides while holding the material in place…

Primary elections: I am very tired (already/still) of hearing about the primary elections in the USA and only two states have voted.  People in the US are obsessed with them and polarization and nastiness seem worse each day.  I mention them because people in Garoua Boulai often ask me about the candidates and elections; they want to talk about them.  One could argue that Cameroonians should be interested in what happens in the “most powerful country” and that it is normal that people in that powerful country don’t pay attention to elections and leaders worldwide, but I say that is arrogance.  They are interested because they will be affected, directly and/or indirectly.  We in the US should be interested in what happens worldwide because we are also affected, directly or indirectly.  We need to learn to listen to people from their perspective – without our preconceived notions of what they are saying or “ought to be” saying.  Good leaders listen.  Good leaders give a voice to everyone.  Good leaders know that helping everyone get better and advance means that the whole country (region) advances in better ways and more quickly.  Is the US a good leader?  For its own people?  For the world? 

Commemorative cloth: You may remember that Pope Francis visited Bangui in November.  As is the custom here, commemorative fabric was made.  Anne Langdji gave me a piece that she got from a friend in Bangui.  Here it is hanging from the mantle in my living room.  It says, “Gango ti Tobwa Francois na Be Africa” (Welcome Pope Francis to Central African Republic.”)  Be in Sango means   Cameroon’s commemorative cloth for International Women’s Day (March 8) is now available. It comes in a choice of two colors – violet and orange.  I bought the former as the one I got from 2015 was orange (about $16 for 6 yards) but can’t show you yet since I dropped it off with my tailor so he can make a dress.  He asked if he couldn’t make a head scarf, too, and I agreed.  I am not much for wearing things on my head, but will wear one at least for March 8!  (Maybe if I wore a headscarf all the time I wouldn’t have to think about haircuts…)
heart so CAR is the Heart of Africa.

More elections: Central African elections are still scheduled for February 14.  This is the second round for the presidential vote and will become the first round for delegates to the legislature.  (Those didn’t go well in December, mostly because ballots didn’t arrive in time in some places, so they were annulled.)  Continue to pray for peace and wisdom in the choice of new Central African leaders.

Hostages: I don’t mention it often, but please also continue to pray for the mayor and sous-prefet of Baboua who are still being held hostage.  It has been seven months.  I have heard the rumor that they will be released after the elections.  May it be true.  Certainly the Central African government has not had (or been willing use) money to pay a ransom.  There are probably 20 or so others who are also being held hostage.  I think of them often and pray for them and their families.  Please add your prayers for all hostages.  No one should be held against his/her will.  No one should be able to profit or think they can gain power by stealing people.

More security: My back porch is now enclosed!  We decided to do this instead of just making a stronger screen door was we did for the front.  I can now recharge my solar lamp without having to think about having it taken.  There are still a few glitches that need to be fixed, but I have a   I have found a place in town where I can buy a plastic table and chairs to use out there.  I just need to drive into town one day soon (instead of walking) so I can pick them up (and negotiate a price).  This makes my back door and house more secure.  In addition, I can feel safe leaving the door open for ventilation – important as the dry season continues and daytime temperatures are hotter. 
screened-in porch.

Expectations:  An interesting story about the car.  I went yesterday to buy diesel fuel and the gas station had none.  They said it would arrive later in the day.  We don’t have that problem in the US, do we?  When we go to buy something like gasoline, the gas station has it.  Of course, we are also very used to having electricity, water, and even internet 24/7.  Electricity here is Garoua Boulai is still going out almost daily for two to ten hours a day.  I/we adjust and work around not having what is expected. 

May Lent provide you the time for reflection and meditation.  May you find ways to better follow Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Village School Program Update

The school year in the Central African Republic started in October 2015.  In January I finally got a copy of the report about the end of the school year (July 2015) from the Village School Program.  Here are some encouraging details.  (Pictures are a couple of years old…)

Student enrollment in October 2014
Student enrollment in June 2015 (% of those who started the year) *
2,550 (84%)
1,245 (97%)
3,795 (96%)
End of Year Test Results - % of students who passed
Test Results of entry into High School (6e) - % of students who passed
* Most of the attrition can be attributed to problems of insecurity in the regions – a few villages are more greatly affected than others. 

The Curriculum Supervisor, David Zodo, visited the schools, observing teachers and evaluating their teaching using the Competency Approach.  He saw 52 of the 62 teachers, visiting most twice to evaluate if they are putting suggestions into practice.  (He has not able to evaluate all teachers because of insecurity in some town and mechanical problems with his motorcycle. 

The Community Developer, Mathias Votoko, worked with all Associations of Parents of Students (APE) to develop budgets, train them as to their duties, and encourage maintenance of schools.  Parent contributions were up 24% over the previous year.

The Director, Abel Service, along with David and Mathias, trained all the teachers during the regular in-service time in September.  This year’s emphasis was on the program to teach citizenship and peace-building (developed in Cameroon and also used by Catholic schools in the western region of CAR).  Soon after this training, the APE were also trained.

Two permanent building are almost completed.  The program had to select schools along the main, paved road so that materials could be effectively delivered.  Even so, they had difficulties with getting supplies when the road was not safe.  Also, the latrine that was build for one school collapsed and parents had to make more bricks and redo the structure.  The buildings should be in use soon.  In addition, Cordaid (an NGO working in the region) is building a second permanent building for the school in Baboua. 

The Village School Program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic continues to operate twenty (20) primary schools in villages where the government has no public school.  Despite continuing insecurity and challenges, all 20 schools are operating.  In fact, enrollment is up.  Two people told me this story: parents of students in one village with a public school have enrolled their children in the VSP school in Bardé since the church’s school has a good reputation and has been operating consistently even during the troubles of the last several years. 

Communication continues to be problematic.  The villages of some schools are in regions where there are no telephone networks.  Where networks exist, the connections are often spotty or go out for extended periods.  Baboua, the headquarters of the VSP has no internet service (or electricity without a personal generator). 

The need for education and schools is still critical in the CAR.  I hope that the newly elected president (whoever that may be) will see education and health care as priorities so that the country may finally continue its development.

Other Updates:
·      The second round of the presidential election will be Sunday, February 14.  The date was delayed in order to be sure that ballots arrive in all towns.

·      Elections for legislators were annulled since not all towns got ballots in time for the first round.  The first round for these elections will also be February 14. 

·      My stolen passport, Cameroonian residency card and driver’s license arrived at the US embassy in Bangui four months after being taken from my house in Garoua Boulai, Cameroon!  (No the computer, camera, and phone did not make the complete trip with the documents.)  I have a new passport and residency card, but the embassy will send the license to the US embassy in Yaoundé so I can get it back. 

·      I have started planning for my home assignment visits in the USA for the summer.  If you didn’t get a copy of the letter, let me know.  I will visit as many people as I can. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Started! (At Last)

When I arrived in the Central African Republic in the fall of 2012, one of the first tasks the Christian Education director talked to me about was finding better Sunday school materials.  We searched and discussed and planned.  We became aware of the lessons (in four books) written by members of LUCSA (Lutheran Communion in Southern Africa). (I think by now they have even more book…) The problem was that the books are in English. 

So, cooperative effort!  The Directors of Christian Education from EELC (Cameroon) and EELRCA (Central African Republic) meet (with me) in Garoua Boulai in the summer of 2013 to create a plan to translate the books in to French (for Cameroon) and Sango (for CAR).  We also explored the cost of printing 1,000 copies of each for congregations and created a plan (and budget) that included training teachers on the new material and its pedagogy.  As you can imagine, this is a huge undertaking which will cost a lot of money in the long run.  We submitted a request to ELCA Global Gifts and waited.

Monday and Tuesday of this week, the Directors of Christian Education and their assistants met to get the task off the ground.  Why did it take so long for us to get this started?  I think you can
imagine: insecurity in CAR, more than anything else.  We could not ask the people from Baboua to risk their lives while the road was frequently being attached by bandits.  Now, though, with UN escorts, small cars (the Central African equivalent of buses) can safely travel Cantonnier – Bouar without problems.  It is slower because travelers must wait until the convoy is ready to leave – around 10 a.m. from Baboua – and go at the slower pace in order to stay together.  Still, they can arrive without being stopped by bandits. (Picture L-R: Jean Diouf Ndoungue, Bernatte Mboudga, Dr. Joseph Ngah, Rev. Maurice Kemane, Dr. Susan Smith)

The meeting in GB (sort of a mid-way point between N’gaoundéré and Baboua) had to be scheduled over two days.  To travel the 250 km from N’gaoundéré takes three hours in a private vehicle and 3 ½ - 4 hours or longer in a bus. Monday, Dr. Ngah and Mme Mborodga got to the station at 6:30 a.m. (the projected time of departure).  They actually left at 8:20 and didn’t arrive in GB until 2 p.m.  (Even in Cameroon where travel is “easier,” it is not without complications!)  Rev. Kemane and Mr. Ndoungue from Baboua had a shorter distance but the need to wait for the escort; they arrived at 11:15. 

Despite these difficulties, we were able to meet for several hours on Monday and a couple more Tuesday morning before those from out of town (everyone by me!) had to reverse their travel.

Here’s the basics of what we decided.  We have a copy of the first four Sunday school manuals written by LUCSA; we will begin with Book 1 that has 54 lessons (one for each week of the year, more or less).  It needs to be translated into French and Sango, but there are not a lot of people qualified to do the work from English to Sango.  Christian Education of EELC will be responsible for getting the work translated into French.  Later, Christian Education of will get the lessons translated from French to Sango.  In the meantime, the Central African director will supervise an artist(s) who will draw pictures for each Bible story used in the lessons. 

The total task is huge!  Translate four books into two languages; draw two images for each story; get everything printed (we figure 1,000 copies for each of the two church bodies); train Sunday school teachers and pastors (who supervise)… and I am sure a thousand small steps in between that we are not aware of yet! 

Nevertheless, the sense of the meeting this week is, “Alleluia!  We have started!”  We’ll figure out the rest as we go along, with the help of God.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Leading While Being a Servant

I have been reflecting a lot recently on this Biblical passage from Mark: “And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45 RSV)

How do we live in positions of responsibility (those who rule in some capacity) and yet serve – or even more, be a slave to all?  Who are those who are in such positions?  Do those of us who believe that leaders should serve have an obligation to challenge leaders who don’t serve? 

Why am I thinking about these things so much recently?  The world is full of exploding violence; people who are acting out against others who are not like them; immigrants facing incredible difficulties as they flee horrendous home situations; police in the USA (and elsewhere, no doubt) shooting those they are to “protect and serve.”  Are the men who have taken over the national park in Oregon terrorist or not?  Is the world worse that it was?  Or, are things just visible in a different way than they were 50 or 100 years ago?

I will say right up front that I don’t have answers.  I guess that is another reason I continue to think about these questions. 

I believe that is it normal for cultures to create ways to establish who is “in” the group and those who are the “other.”  It is natural that people get comfortable with what they have and want to maintain it.  It seems normal that when others want what we have, we feel threatened and strike out.  But, is “normal” right? 

Should immigrants be allowed into a country/state/town?  A knee-jerk reaction, too often, is “NO!  They will take our jobs/resources.  They will lower property values.  There will be terrorists among them.”  I would like to think that reading history would moderate this reaction.  In the USA, each new wave of immigrants was stigmatized and ostracized.  In various places it happened to the Italians, Irish, Jews, Eastern Europeans, Africans.  It was worse for the latter group because they couldn’t learn English, change their names and clothing in order to “blend in.”  The group in the USA that had the biggest right to feel threatened was the Native Americans whose homes and land were stolen as they were chased further west and then onto reservations. 

Global climate change, I believe, is related to these same questions.  No one wants to give up the level of comfort they currently have – in fact, most want to have more – even if it means we are damning future generations.  It seems we can tell “developing” countries to limit their use of power (electric, especially) and consummation of limited natural resources, but are we willing to do the same?  We say, “Yes, we cut down the majority of our forests and have suburban sprawl eating up more and more land.  Learn from us!  Don’t follow our example.”  But, what right do we have to limit access to modern technology, conveniences, and power-greedy appliances when we demand more and more of them for ourselves?

Do the actions of objectifying women, raping them, demeaning them, and passing laws limiting what they can do really make men more important?  More powerful?  When people in any position of authority demand a bribe to do their job, do they really feel better about themselves because of what they can now buy or the fact that they could demand something of others and get it?  Aren’t fear and insecurity about one’s identity really the root causes?  It takes a strong leader to be a servant (despite fear and personal insecurity). 

Privilege exists.  Certainly White privilege exists.  Colonizers everywhere insisted on it.  Affluence and habit reinforce it.  Here, I can speak with clarity even greater than when I was living in the USA.  I have electricity (a lot of the time) and running water (usually); I live in a large house – bigger than I need.  (And, before I came I lived in a large house – bigger than I needed.)  I can buy what I need and most often what I want.  I have so much more than the vast majority of people here.  Privilege.  OK, my salary comes from ELCA in dollars, but there are others who get good salaries who would find it more difficult to get what I have.  And, then, there are lots who live hand-to-mouth with very little. 

People in Cameroon and CAR defer to me – often, everywhere.  I was chatting with a Central African who now sells telephone credit at a small stand here in GB.  It was complicated explaining why I didn’t buy credit from him.  (The answer is, as often happens in the USA, I have an account, can make as many calls as I want a month, and pay at the end of the month; few Cameroonians or Central Africans have that privilege.)  Toward the end of the conversation, he asked that I stop by to talk to him more often.  He said that talking to a white person would help him advance.  I must have looked doubtful (shocked?) because he said that those who get and follow advice from white people can do better in business.  I would like to help him discover that he has all the intelligence he needs, but given differences in educational opportunities, refugee status, and income levels, is intelligence alone enough?  What would you do in a situation like this to counter the strong belief that white is better? 

When you are asked to sit up front (near the altar) in a church service just because you are white, what would you do?  If you refuse, you insult the people.  If you accept, you reinforce the privilege. 

I heard a church leader here say that he never walks anywhere because it is below the dignity of his office.  Well, here is a stand that is easy for me.  I walk most everywhere I go.  Shopkeepers in town sometimes offer to pay for me to go home on a motorcycle taxi, but I refuse explaining that walking is good exercise.  I am breaking one stereotype about leaders (and white people) with this small action.  (Maybe this is not a good example of me going out of my way to change perceptions since I like walking and it is genuinely what I prefer.)

If you hear that a church leader has raised his own salary despite the fact that the budget has been in the red for years, is it your (our) place to challenge that person?  If you (we) are living at the expense of others or living a privileged life without paying attention (or realizing it), is it necessary/appropriate for others to challenge us?  If we are challenged, can we listen and hear?

When fear, or its offspring hate, dominates conversations about refugees, immigrants, shootings, etc., how do we open dialogue in ways that calm fears instead of inflaming them?  When groups are so polarized (especially political parties) that they react to a person of another group without listening to what is said, and, react with inflammatory language, how do you (we) open doors.  Too many have let belittling others so that they can fell better about themselves become a habit – a knee-jerk reaction.  I believe that the message from Jesus calls us to listen, to understand why someone else feels the way s/he does, without trying to convert him/her.  We see the humanity in the “other.” We can even find common ground. 

I am making some small decisions to try to be a servant leader (besides walking to get where I am going). 
·      When I see Facebook postings, I have decided not to read those that demean the “other.”  My clues?  Words filled with negative connotations, like: “[politician] just slapped down attack on [another politician];  Why the hell isn’t…; Professors hated [politician]; __ sent brutal response to ___; ___ is a piece of garbage.  (People from “both sides” use this kind of language – and who said there were only two sides anyway?!?) I will certainly not share those and I will do my best to be respectful of everyone when I write messages and/or share postings. 
·      I am trying to listen more and talk less.  I like the quote (from I can’t remember who) that says when you listen you learn; when you talk you are sharing what you already know, not gaining wisdom.  This is hard for me.  (Look, I have been “talking” for 2 ½ pages already!)  But, I think it is important.  Good leaders know what others think, feel, believe, and want/need. 
·      Listening has to happen in meetings, too.  I am making efforts to allow those I work with to take responsibility for their actions and for the direction of the project (or whatever).  I believe I have knowledge (and maybe some wisdom) to offer, but I hope to share it through questions that the participants need to answer so that they can work out for themselves what is best for the situation.  (This is hard, too, when people often want to be told, want to allow another to take responsibility, and/or don’t know how to step up to the plate themselves.) 

I am sure there is more I could do.  What are your thoughts on this topic?  I would be happy if this were more of a dialogue than a monologue.  What small (and large) steps can we take to be the servant leaders that Jesus calls us to be? 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Happy New Year!

As 2016 starts, I am reflecting on how much  I appreciate those around me who have opened their homes and families to me when I could not be with my own.  For many holidays in Pittsburgh, I did not travel to be with my parents or siblings.  A couple of good friends regularly invited me to celebrate with them.  This year in Garoua Boulai the same thing happened on New Year’s Eve.  Gbabiri David had a family reunion that day/evening but still opened his house to a couple of us who were away from family.  I am very grateful to David and his family – and I had a great evening!

In Cameroon, the President, Paul Biya, makes a speech on New Year’s Eve.  (I can’t imagine a US president doing that – people are too intent on partying Dec. 31 and watching football Jan. 1 – hence our state of the union address later in January…)  It was shown at 8 p.m. followed by a round table of people discussing the content and interviewing people from around the country.  At the end of that program, his message was broadcast again.  We didn’t see his speech (either time) but did see part of the analysis, including a message from the mayor of Garoua Boulai.  The mayor is Lutheran and often attends the same French service that I do.  When I saw her yesterday, she commented on my not having been in church New Year’s Day.  (I admit it; after having gotten home at 2 a.m., I slept in and then got off to a slow start on Jan. 1!)  I agreed that I had not been present, but that I had seen her on television Dec. 31.  She said, “Well, then, you are really Cameroonian!”

Bible School students at my house (with me)
I decided that during this holiday season, I would reach out to more people in Garoua Boulai, so on different days these people came to my house for a meal:  Elisabeth, the wife of a doctor at the hospital here who is currently completing a training program in Mbingo; Marie Chantal, a doctor who has been at the hospital in GB for about a year (whose husband is studying in Ottawa); and Solofo and Joely, the two Malagasy doctors in town (who also invited me to their house Jan. 1).  The Bible School students who didn’t go to their home districts also came for a drink and meal (that they prepared) on Jan. 1.  They brought music, too!  (I took few pictures this holiday season; instead I spent more time enjoying the company I was with.)

This weekend, I am hobnobbing with the “elite.” Yesterday, the regional bishop and his wife went to dinner with me.  While at the restaurant we saw the mayor who invited us to dine at her house today!  I can’t imagine being in the same “crowd” in Pittsburgh, but GB is a smaller town – and the bishop lives across the street from me, so I see him often. 

I found out during this holiday that the Cameroonian brewery has developed a new beer called Tango that is a mixture of Beaufort (a lager they already made/make) and grenadine.  Had they told me in advance what it was, I might not have tried it.  I can definitely say that mixing beer with a fruit drink does not work for me!  But, I can now say I have had one.  We have to be open to trying new things, right??

I leave you with a picture of part of the Christmas decorations from church.  They make arches of tall palms and then add hibiscus flowers and ribbons.  There were arches outside the front door, on the pillars near the front of the pews, and on the wall behind the altar.  (They also had a small, artificial (dare I say tacky?) Christmas tree with lights and decorations at the side of the altar.  Needless to say, I prefer the natural decorations.  Aren’t the flowers gorgeous?  Not traditional for Christmas in Pennsylvania, but then, I live in the tropics! 

May 2016 bring you opportunities to grow and stretch.  May all of our actions contribute to more peace in the world this year than last. 

Oh, and, happy 9th Day of Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Gifts and Preparations

A Christmas tradition worldwide is to give gifts.  Jesus was a gift to the world.  The wise men brought him gifts.  St Nicholas who died in 343 became known, in part, because he gave gifts.  So, today, we give gifts too at Christmas time.

Yes, I know many complain that Christmas has become too commercial.  Even those who don’t celebrate Jesus’ birth go into debt to buy lots of (especially name-brand or up-to-the-minute) “stuff.”  But, the distortion of a tradition doesn’t negate its basic value even if it might influence the ways we give (or ask for) gifts.

Since I have been in Garoua Boulai, I have tried to find gifts that meet the needs of the recipients and to give something small to those Isee the most often.  I am giving the Bible School students ibuprofen because they don’t have basic medicines, mostly because they have so little money.  I am including directions for its use.  I even wrapped them up in old yogurt containers.  (No, each is not full of medicine, but the container is also a small gift.)  I have baked pumpkin pies and ginger snaps that I am sharing with friends – both Christian and Muslim. 

I know that others like to give gifts, too, even if they don’t have the means to give much.  So, I requested a gift from the Bible School students and their spouses.  During morning meditations, they sing beautifully and in harmony.  I asked them to come 15 minutes early to a meditation one day so that they could sing four hymns (in Gbaya) which they often sing and that have become favorites of mine.  They were overjoyed to do it! How do I know?  Instead of 15 minutes early, they showed up 6:45 – 45 minutes before the meditation!  At 7:05 they sent the class president to my house to say they were ready and waiting for me.  (This, from students who are often late for the 7:30 meditation, class, meetings, etc.)  They sang with gusto and even borrowed a drum to accompany the songs!  I am thrilled with my present.

We also took pictures of the students and their families in front of their houses.  That was for me, too, although I am sharing the photos and songs with any student who can bring a USB flash drive. 

I attended the children’s Christmas pageant.  OK, it was part of OSEELC Week that I wrote about recently, but the children of hospital employees, directed by Dr. Joely, sang Christmas songs in Malagasy, English, and French.  They also retold (in French) the Christmas story.  Well done. 

Special meals are also a tradition for the Christmas season – in the USA and Cameroon/CAR.  I will be sharing Christmas dinner with Dr. Solofo and Dr. Joely.  I think someone has been trying to help me out; several cattle have been grazing (and lowing) around my house.  This week, three have decided that my carport is a great place to be.  I figure if they use my space and leave me cow pies (presents?), they must be gifts that I can use for Christmas dinner, no??  (Well, maybe not.  I would have to butcher them myself and the owners might be upset.  I guess it would be better to try to find the owners and get them to control where their cattle go.)

Here, like in the USA, gifts for kids are meant to be a surprise.  I am keeping a couple of dolls and some blocks for a neighbor.  She will get a surprise, too, since I have wrapped them in Christmas paper and added a small “Santa Claus” gift.

I consider it a great gift that I could talk to the Pittsburgh Ragin’ Grannies last Wednesday for 40 minutes during their holiday gathering.  Yes, I had to call at 1:30 a.m. my time, but it was well worth it!  Love the new “no guns” version of the gaggle song.  Thanks for all the news and good wishes.

My new computer, camera, passport, etc. are in Yaoundé!  I can’t really call them presents since the insurance and I paid for them after the theft at my house, but I can say it will be like Christmas after they come the last eight hours to GB.  Thanks to Willie Langdji who brought most of my new “stuff” from the USA after his meeting in Chicago.  (I’m not sure yet when or how they will make the last leg of the journey.)

Other preparations.  I have never really gotten into doing a lot of decorating for Christmas.  In Pittsburgh, I used the excuse that I usually left my house to be with family for the holiday.  I don’t have that excuse here.  I could say that it’s because it’s not cold and snowy.  (Of course, from what I hear it isn’t cold or snowy in Pennsylvania now either!  Temperatures in the 60s.)  It is hot and sunny (up to the mid/upper 80s during the day, even if it gets down to 55-60 at night), so it doesn’t “feel” like Christmas here.  It’s probably safer to say that I am just lazy…  Why put up stuff that you just have to take down in a couple of weeks??  I did get a carved crèche scene last year.  I so have put it and the hot mitt with Father Christmas out, so I have decorated!  (The hot mitt belongs to the guest house; I found it here…)

Advent is not big here (although it has been mentioned in a couple of sermons).  Christmas carols aren’t very common either.  That is, they exist, but I rarely hear them.  Children, though, go around the neighborhood singing on Christmas Eve.  They are given candy or small coins for their efforts.  I have some candy ready.

I am preparing as I can and reflecting on Jesus’ teaching – ways we can better follow his example wherever we are as we wait for his second coming and the celebration of his birth: feed the hunger, give drink to the thirsty, clothe those without, visit the sick and imprisoned.  Treat all as our neighbors, especially those who are different in culture and religion.

Blessed Advent and an early Merry Christmas!