Sunday, December 30, 2012


Many of you have seen the news about trouble in the Central African Republic.  Rebels have taken towns in the north and central part of the country.  They have agreed to talks with the government, and countries in the area are helping begin the process.  Meanwhile, the rebels continue to take towns and fight in others getting ever closer to the capital.  (Yesterday they took Sibut – without a fight – which is about 75 miles from Bangui, the capital.)

In the western part of the country where I normally live and work, all is calm – no fighting or rebels in evidence.  Nevertheless, at the recommendation of the National Church President and the U.S. embassy, all ELCA missionaries have evacuated.  We left Christmas Eve (spending that in Garoua Boulai, just over the border in Cameroon, and came to N’gaoundéré on Christmas day. 

Since this is the Christmas holiday and church offices (including those of the two programs I work for) are closed, this feels more like an unplanned vacation.  Of course, we will not go back until the National Lutheran Churches in CAR and the US agree that it is safe (so my vacation is likely to be extended…)

Meanwhile, we are visiting sites around N’gaoundéré.  Thursday 5 people and a dog climbed to the top of Mount N’gaoundéré.  There were lots of rocks and some trail.  The rock on the top looks like an “outie” belly button – which I am told is what the word n’gaoundéré means in the local language!  Here are a few pictures.  I love the one of the dog Lady in the car on the way home.  

Saturday 15 of us – missionaries and Cameroonians – drove about 1 ½ hours to see Les Chutes (waterfalls) de Tello.  The falls are pretty high and very pretty although not a wide as Niagara Falls or Bouli Falls (near Bangui, CAR).  This is close enough to the rainy season that there was a lot of water, but not as much as there would have been a couple of months ago.  We ate lunch, hiked some, talked, enjoyed the beauty of God’s creation, and had a great time.  Here are a few pictures.

Monday we are planning to visit another area where ruins of very old villages can still be seen.  Maybe I can write more about that next time.

Merry 6th Day of Christmas. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

More School Visits!

The Village School Program has 20 schools.  I have now visited 17! One is in Baboua, so I visited it first. Two weeks ago I went with the director and the assistant (who works with pedagogy) to visit 7 schools. (See the earlier blog entry about parent organizations.) Most of those schools are along the main road which is now paved. It was a long day and most of the schools were not in session by the time we got there, but we saw the buildings and talked to directors (principals), teachers, and some students. We drove about 270 km. (170 m.) that day.

December 19 and 20 the director, assistant, man who works with parent organizations, and I set off to visit more schools to the south of Baboua. The roads ranged from bad to tolerable to horrible. Many places the road was better suited to motorcycles (which use it more often) or foot traffic. The tall grass leaned into the road and the bushes encroach on it making it impossible to drive without having the plants (now pretty dry) scraping the sides of the truck. In places, the plants also grow in the middle of the road so they scrap the underside of the vehicle, too. Other places, I had to drive with some wheels on the road and others in the brush. Since it is the dry season, we didn’t have to worry about mud, but some places the road was rutted from previous rain. There are also places with rocks in the road that I had to go around or over. Yes, I drove the whole distance – about 360 km. (225 m.)!

Did you notice that I am back to talking about the roads again?!? I guess when they are this bad, it’s not surprising. I figure the Day 1 we averaged about 25 km (16 m) per hour. I thought that was slow, but Day 2 it was only about 15-20 km. (10-13 m) per hour. The good news was that we passed very few cars or trucks and a motorcycle only about every 10 minutes or so. As a result, not too much dust – except what we kicked up ourselves. Twice, though, we had to creep along behind a herd of cattle for a short distance – until they could find a place to move off the road. Once again, I couldn’t take pictures as I was driving, but I snapped one of a young steer in a village. Image this at least double in size and with 20 or so of its companions and you’ll have an idea of what we followed. (Adult cattle have very long horns, by the way…)

We also had the experience of driving past fires. People here burn the brush in the dry season. I asked why and was told that it cleans up the area, makes it easier to hunt animals, and is a tradition. One person said that many people now know that it is not good for the environment and causes uncontrolled fires which burn houses or towns, but it is hard to get people to change. He continued that now people often don’t know who sets the fires, that it must be pyromaniacs! (Personally, I find it easier to believe that it is a tradition that is hard to break.) Twice we drove past fires at the side of the road. It was at a fairly level place, fortunately so we drove past quickly. The heat was intense. Once a little of the grass in the middle of the road was also burning. We had no choice but to drive over it as quickly as possible. Fortunately, no problem! I have no pictures of the fires – I was too busy paying attention to the road to snap photos!! Later, I took a picture near my house of leaves that have fallen from the trees (not because of cold, but dryness) and the places where the leaves were raked together to be burned. I also took a picture of the side of the road (near my house) that had been burned. Notice that not everything burned; some plants still remain. 
This trip to schools took two days. Even so, because of the distances and poor roads, we could only visit about two schools in the morning each day when classes were to be in session (between 8 and 12). We went to other towns to see the principals (who also teach, so, head teachers, really, like we used to have in the US) and buildings. Our route made a circle – well, one with a tail (so that part we had to go up and back on the same road).

These schools had “hangars,” rectangular-shaped structures with wood supporting thatched roofs. The exception was one town where local officials build a 2-classroom brick building. We talked about enrollment numbers, what they have and need (lots!), and how things are going. We also took some old textbooks that are no longer used and to give as prizes to the students. When school was in session, everyone was present got a book to keep at home. When it was after hours, we left books for the teachers to use as prizes. The director of the Village School Program also made some blackboards that we delivered. He took wood, framed it, and painted it black. Through our travels we were able to distribute about 8 of these. Each time we had to unload the boards to get to the books and then reload those left as we started off to another town.

We stayed overnight in a village called Lamy Pong – where there is a brick building for the school. The traditional chief of the area invited us to sit in his compound while we waited for some women to prepare food for us. The compound is an area surrounded by a fence (part woven grasses and part wood/corrugated tin) that encloses two buildings. Women cooked outside (but inside the compound) over wood fires. There was a place to bathe and they heated water for us to use. It was good to see more of Central African homes. It is true that the chief is richer than many people, but it was not like being at my house in Baboua.

People were very welcoming. It was obvious, though, that I was treated differently as a white person. They brought me bottled water. They sent someone to ask if I eat African food. I said yes. They asked, “Even manioc?” I said yes, I would eat whatever they prepared and be very appreciative. Still, when the food came, they brought manioc (the ball made from the roots), another ball made from corn, and rice. I was the only one of our group who ate rice. They also prepared two different bowls of meat in two sauces. I enjoyed the meal even though it was served about 9 p.m. and I could have just gone to bed without eating at that point. Traveling is tiring, esp. driving on those bad roads…

As we waited, the chief put on the generator and the television. If you had no electricity during the day and could afford a generator, what would you power? I think lights would be high on my list (along with my computer, and Internet…) In this village, TV made the top of the list. There were no electric lights. I find it interesting to see the difference in priorities. We watched mostly news – in Sango, French, Arabic, and a little English – and a bit of music.

As the villagers arranged places for us to stay, they came to get one of the members of our group to go and check out the room that would be for me – special treatment again. It was very comfortable. I slept in a brick building with a corrugated-tin roof. They spread two (plastic) woven mats on the concrete floor and put a foam mattress on one. It had a sheet, blanket, and pillow. They also left me a small, bright, halogen light. There was a door that locked with a key and a window that closed with a wooden shutter. I slept very well although I know that I also had more niceties that most people in the village had.

The latrine I used was what is often called a Turkish toilet. Sometimes they are made from metal, but this one was concrete. Basically, it is a hole in the ground with a place to put your feet. The better ones have a cover for the hole. This one was very clean and surrounded by walls of corrugated tin.

I am very glad to have gone on the trips, despite the roads! As we start the new calendar year, there will be a new director and assistant for the Village School Program. (The man who works with parents will continue his work.) We will have to spend a lot of time considering the needs of the schools and the program so that we can effectively plan – and to help us all better understand the program as it is now. I don’t know how much I will be traveling to schools – that is yet to be decided – but I am very glad to have gone to the 17 I saw. I have a much better understanding of the program, in general, the strengths, and the needs. All of this will help me work with Central Africans to further the work.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Schools in Two Towns

Thursday of last week the Director, Pedagogical Coach (Chargé de Pédagogie), and I were able to visit seven villages and seven schools that are part of the Village School Program.  It took all day – we left at 7:00 a.m. and got back to Baboua at 6:00 p.m.  The furthest school we saw was 80 km. (50 miles) away, including 30 km. (about 20 miles) of road that got increasingly worse as we left the paved main road.  All of the other schools we visited were along the newly paved road.  Imagine how long this trip would have taken last year before the road was paved!  We hope to go to see some other schools this week, but the trip will involve taking more unpaved roads.  Getting to all 20 schools takes time! 

In this blog entry, I want to focus on two villages (I’ll call them 1 and 2) because they remind me of issues that I saw in Pittsburgh – different, but the same. 

First, a little background.  Each village had to form a committee of parents as they decided that they wanted to become a part of this program.  It is called the Association of Parents of Students – like our PTO or PTA although here they have more direct responsibilities for the school.  Parents must each pay a share of the cost of educating the students and then our program pays part, too.  This money goes to pay the teachers (one of whom is the director, or principal, of the school.  Parents must also find a place and build “hangars” where classes can be held. These hangars are rectangular structures that have small logs that hold up a straw roof.  Most schools have at least two to house classes.  Sometimes there are two classes in each hangar and occasionally teachers work with one class in the morning and a different level in the same structure in the afternoon.  This depends on space and availability of teachers.  Then, sometimes parents build desks and sometimes our program helps with money to have some made.  These are tables to seat 4-5 students each with an accompanying bench.  Parents are then responsible for the maintenance of the hangars.  In time, they are also asked to collect sand, stones, and to make bricks (more on that later).  These materials will be used to build a more permanent school building –with financial support of our program.  The Village School Program also provides black boards (made from board that are framed and painted black), texts (not always enough for all students right now, unfortunately, because many classes are very large), and some other basics.  Students buy their own notebooks, pens (they don’t seem to use pencils), individual slates, chalk, and other materials.

As we arrived at School A, we saw two hangars.  They have a principal, who also teaches, and one other teacher.  In one structure a kindergarten class sat on one side and the 1st grade on the other.  In the other, there was one class.  Both teachers teach other levels in the afternoon.  We saw evidence that there is little parental support for this school.  The straw roofs had holes – and not little ones!  (See picture.)  Fortunately, this is the dry season, so it doesn’t rain in now, but the sun does shine in – distracting those sitting in its intensity, I am sure.  The parents are not giving their share toward the teachers’ salaries and no work has been done to begin to collect sand, stones, and bricks although the parents have asked the Village School Program to build them a permanent building.  Those who work for our program have met with the parents several times to talk about what needs to be done, but to no avail.  They have also involved the traditional chief.  Still, nothing has happened. 

Does this sound familiar, especially to those of you who have worked with schools??  It reminds me of schools in some neighborhoods of Pittsburgh where there is little support.  Granted, the kind of support we ask for is different – we want parents to help or at least monitor that homework is done, come for parent conferences, maybe help with fund-raisers…  But the end result is the same.  When parents are not willing, or able, to support the school, it doesn’t function as well. 

Consider, next, School B.  As we drove up, students saw the new blackboards the director of the Village School Program had made.  (Making boards is not usually the job of the program director in the States, is it?!?)  They stated to call out, “Tableau!” (Blackboard!)  They were obviously very excited.  We were also met by the President of the Parents’ Association and about 5 other members of the committee.  This school also had two hangars, but they were in very good condition.  And, parents have already collected a lot of sand.  The day we arrived, some of the older students had had oral exams.  With the remaining time in the school day, all students were helping to make mud bricks.  This school still has problems; what school doesn’t? But, the support of the parents has made an incredible difference.  I bet we can all think of schools in the States that work more smoothly or have definite advantages because the PTO/PTA and parental support are strong.  It works the same way here.  So, things are really different at the schools I saw, but, then, there are similarities, too.

Finally, I want to talk a little about making bricks.  It is not something we do ourselves in the US.  Of course, bricks or cinder blocks are much more readily available and easier to buy.  Here, house and many other buildings are made from mud bricks.  (Some buildings are built from cinder blocks that are bought.  These are more durable and long-lasting.)  People dig up dirt – that has a lot of clay in it, I think – and add water.  I know that in the Old Testament, straw was added, but I don’t know if they add anything else.  The mixture is then put into frames to shape the brick.  This is then left to dry in the sun.  The dry season is a good time to make bricks since there is lots of sun to dry them.  Also, the rain doesn't come and destroy those that are already made.  On the other hand, water is harder to come by.  Making bricks takes a lot of time!  We saw schools where parents were making bricks to be used for teacher housing and for more permanent classroom buildings.  The pictures included here are:  the frame for making bricks, some bricks drying in the sun, and a pile of bricks that was unprotected and ruined by the rain a couple of months ago.  Parents at that school weren’t discouraged; they just started making more bricks!  They want a permanent building for their school! 

The culture in CAR works against us in that education is not a priority.  Many (even most, in some areas) adults are not literate.  If they have been to school, it may have only been for a couple of years.  Some recognize the importance of educating their children, but don’t know how to help and support the children or the schools.  In the US, we have some functionally illiterate parents, but many fewer than here.  Schools in the US also face many parents who didn’t do well in school, don’t value education, or don’t know the best ways to support their children in their education.  So there, as here, we have much work to do.  In the Village School Program in the future, we will continue to work with all the Parents’ Associations to help them better understand their role and to encourage them to do their part in making these schools work well.  We will be looking for new ideas and ways to do this so that they can understand and participate.  Educators, doesn’t this sound familiar???  


 A lot of what I do reminds me of work I did with the Pittsburgh Public School.  Right now, I am thinking, in particular, of planning documents.  We did them at a different time of year, but the process is similar.  Those of you with PPS, I am talking about CEIP, later called the School Improvement Plan and various other names.  That’s when we analyzed data and other information about the school and current programs to be able to set goals and develop action plans to accomplish them.  Here in CAR we are in the midst of doing the same.  We also have end of the year evaluations and reports to complete.  (Here they work on the calendar year since that is what most partners who support the programs use.  In the US, end of the year for schools usually means June…) 
Village Sch. Prog. office - lots of paper - pick the right ones!
As in Pittsburgh, each program (or school) has to plan and evaluate.  Some do it better than others.  So, in both places, leaders are working to train project/school staff on new forms designed to facilitate the collection of information and the planning process.  We just got one new form here last week.  Completing the form has not been easy since we didn’t plan with this form in mind.  Fortunately, the director of one program has completed and understood the process.  He spent time this morning training staff of the two programs I support.  He said the projects’ progress is like a spiral.  One can start at the center and work out (start with plans, move to activities, then evaluate) or at the outside and work in (start with this evaluation and work backwards).  We are obviously using the second approach.  I think this direction is harder, but that is where we are, so that is where we start!

This month, we have been taking a look at activities for the Village School Program and Christian Education and trying to evaluate how things went.  We are also setting ourselves up to better plan for 2013.  I have always said it is easier to get where you are going if you know where you want that to be!

Christian Education - Sunday school class
So, we are working with goals, objectives, activities, short and long term results, indicators of success, and duration of activities.  For planning, we will be working with analysis of data (forms provided), definition of the current state of the situation/program, and action planning.  The vocabulary is different, but this is the process all Pittsburgh teachers are familiar with – and no doubt many of the rest of you have your own versions of the planning process.  We all need to plan, implement, monitor, and evaluate!  Many of us do it in our personal lives as well!

Long live planning, evaluating, and making progress. 

Monday, December 3, 2012


I am sharing my kitchen with at least one dormouse!  I know because s/he ate ¼ of a banana that was sitting out on the counter overnight.  This morning I saw it run down behind the stove. 

What do you know about dormice?  They are small (2 ½ to 3 ½ inches long).  Their tails are furry instead of scaly like mice we see in the States.  They eat fruit, berries, flowers, nuts and insects.  (I am happy about that last one!)  They are nocturnal, so I shouldn’t see them much. 

Ancient Romans thought eating dormice was a delicacy – they had them as an appetizer or for dessert (dipped in honey and poppy seeds).  They are still eaten in Slovenia.  No, I am not planning on trying them. 
In temperate climates, dormice hibernate for up to six months a year.  Their name actually comes from doreous which means sleepy.  I doubt they will hibernate here…  (Thanks to Wikipedia for the basic information.  Picture complements of and

I will have to find a way to convince “my” dormouse (and probably his/her family) to live outside instead of in the house.  I will start that process next week.

Today, I am leaving for Cameroon to take care of a number of tasks:  long-term visa, etc.  I will be on the road, but hopefully have regular Internet access. 

An interesting aside:  Yesterday, I went to the Sango Lutheran church which is walking distance from my house.  There were nine infant baptisms which I thought was a lot and a great sign of growth.  I heard about the Central Lutheran Church several kilometers down the street, though.  They had 60 baptisms!  Talk about growth!  All those babies, with only one pastor – that was a long liturgy.

Happy advent! 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Moved into My House!

Move accomplished, but the work is far from done!  I am so pleased.  From the time I work up this morning, I started moving my things from the guest house to the one that is now mine.  I got help from Luc, the station manager and two others who work on the station – to move furniture around – in the house and between houses.  They also moved my suitcases and larger boxes.  It’s great to have a pick up at times like this.  Of course, we didn’t use mine since it has the tarp on the back; we borrowed Joe’s.

Then, I was going to sit and rest – after all, I am getting over a sinus infection (much better today with the new antibiotic I got yesterday).  But, then, we needed to turn on the generator (not usual during the day) so I decided to try out my “new” washer.  It is a Maytag from the US that I think is older than the Maytag I bought when I got my house in 1985…  It works, though; what else do I need???  So then I decided to unpack some things and make the place look more livable. 

Getting curtains made is a priority.  I got rings to sew on, but have to first decide what kind of material.  I want something that is not too dark, but do I want the same for all windows?  (Don’t know yet…)  In the meantime, I borrowed a couple of sheets from the guest house and put them up.  I also put up other material.  The problem is that these don’t open easily so the air doesn’t move well.  Finding material I like will be a priority.

I am borrowing couch cushions, dishes, pots, and silverware from the two guest houses.  I need to go to N’gaoundéré the second week of December, so I will get my own then.  I will also make a list of niceties or art to add as well.  (I have already bought a few paintings and sculptures that have made a drop in the bucket of home décor.) 

Currently, I am sharing my house with mud dauber wasps.  They look vicious, but don’t sting.  Still, I’d rather they go somewhere else…

I want to get porch furniture so I can watch sunsets, but I will have to find someone who can make it for me, so that will wait for a bit.  Curtains, first! 

My parting gift clock also now has a permanent home on the table beside my bed.  I like thinking of the Spring Hill friends who gave it to me and being able to tell the time in CAR and PA at the same time.  
Living Room

Living Room bookshelves

My Office

Today is the day we are celebrating Thanksgiving.  Joe Troester is preparing a duck and Deb Troester has made a pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes.  Esther, Danish nurse working in Gallo has come to share it with us.  I was thankful before that the house was ready.  Now I am even more grateful to be living in it.

So, I am tired from all I did today, but happy to be “home” – well almost.  I am at Troesters for Internet (wiring to my house to come next week, I hope) and duck!