Monday, September 24, 2012

Bala-ala. Tongana nye?

How do we communicate with people?  There are, of course, many ways – studies have even shown that 80% of communication is nonverbal – but one of the most visible and important is language.  That’s why I will be going to Bohong shortly to learn Sango.  Bohong is a small town about 35 km. north of Bouar which is 2 hours east of Baboua (my town).  The title of this entry is in Sango – “Hello to you all.  How are you?”  So why do I need to learn Sango when I already speak French??

French is the colonial language.  That means that a lot of government business, secondary schools, and other businesses use French.  It is an official language in the Central African Republic. People, however, don’t learn French until they go to school.  Most primary schools begin instruction in Sango and students then learn French.  Too many children, though, never get the change to go to school, so they don’t learn French.  The literacy rate is between 50 and 60% (depending on which reference you check).  That means almost ½ the population cannot read and write in any language and are unlikely to know French.  This number includes a disproportionate number of girls and women.

Also, Sango is the national African language in CAR.  It is rare in Africa that there is one African language in a country that most everyone speaks and can be an official language.  Why?  Well, there are about 55 countries in Africa, but each has many ethnic groups that speak their own language.  Wikipedia says that there are over 2100 and by some counts over 3000 languages spoken in Africa!  When the colonizing countries (like France here) divided the area into countries, they intentionally drew the lines so that ethnic groups were split.  (Divide and continue to control??)  A major result is that most countries do not have one African language and do not want to choose one because it would give too much power and prestige to that ethnic group.  So, CAR has one language – what a resource!  I have been told that since Sango was the language of commerce even before the French came, everyone learned to speak it. 

Now imagine this:  children are born and begin to learn their maternal language (the one for their ethnic group).  Not too long after that, they learn Sango.  All of these languages are oral, by the way. They have now been written down as missionaries worked to translate the Bible into their languages.  If there are other ethnic groups in the area, children also learn those.  Then, if they have the chance, children go to school and learn French.  If they continue beyond elementary school, they study English or some other European language!  (And, we from the USA are resistant to learning any language other than English!  We all have the capacity; too bad we don’t all take advantage…)

I am learning Sango, therefore, to be able to talk to people in their own language – to better understand their world view.  In working with the directors of the education programs of the church and even in working with teachers, I will speak French, for the most part.  But, when working with parents and leaders in villages, Sango will be essential.  Also, when I have the opportunity to be in elementary classrooms, the primary language will be Sango. 

I am going to another town to have more contact with Central Africans.  My next-door neighbors in Baboua are from the US (great temptation to speak English!) and the offices for the programs with which I will be working (temptation to speak French).  I hope, too, by being immersed in the culture for a month, I will be able to learn other cultural aspects, especially nonverbal communication.  I will keep my ears open, but also my eyes and all my other senses.

A little about Bohong:  ELLRCA (Église Évangélique Luthérienne-République Centrafricaine) has a medical clinic in the village.  Many women come for pre- and post-natal care and for the birth of their children.  They also have rooms for in-and out-patient care.  It is highly prized.  In the early 2003s when there was a problem with rebels/bandits in the area, twice villagers took the medical equipment and supplies and hid them (in their houses and elsewhere) so that they were not stolen! 

Also on the station is a school for girls, a guest house, and the office of a program designed to help villages address environmental issues, including food security (having enough to eat for the entire year).  It is set in a gorgeous area which is very green now in the rainy season.

I will be staying in the guest house.  Here are a few pictures of that house and what is around in.  Wouldn’t you like to come and join me?!?  

Living Room of the Guest House

Guest House with Porch

Another Part of the Bohong Station

View from the Guest House

I am now driving – on a limited basis, but on the road literally!  I drove around Bouar a little – roads not paved and
so-so.  Then I drove part of the way between Bouar and Baboua – 95% paved road.  I got up into 5th gear even- 50 – 55 mph.  That is the speed limit and, although others drive faster, I am content to go more slowly just now.  I am not yet ready to drive from Bouar to Bohong since the road is generally bad.  When we went a few days ago, the driver was able to get into 3rd gear for stretches ~25 mph, but also spent a lot of time in 1st and 2nd gear, sometimes going about 2 kmh…  I could do the driving by going slowly, but don’t yet want to be on my own in case there would be a problem. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On the Road Again!

I am trying to add a couple of pictures.  It's not the best I've ever taken, but it is recent!  Next time I'll wear a Phillips or Pittsburgh t-shirt!  (To bad I don't have an ELLC or PLUM one)

Willie Langdji, one of the West Africa area representatives for the ELCA has arrived in N'Gaoundere.  He will be taking me to CAR tomorrow to introduce me to people there.  Here’s the tentative plan: 
Me on a main street of N'gaoundere

  • Leave N’gaoundéré sometime between 8 and 9 a.m.
  • Drive 4 hours or so – some good, paved roads, some not – to Garaou Boulai, this is a Cameroonian town on the border with CAR.  We stopped there for the night on the way here.
  • While in the border town, we need to arrange some paperwork so that the Toyota HiLux that will be mine for a while can be driven in CAR.  It is registered in Cameroon. 
  • After crossing the border (which can take some minutes or an hour), we will drive an hour to Baboua. 
  • If the Central African church vehicle is available, National President Golike will drive to the border to meet us and travel back with us.
  • We will stop briefly in Baboua so I can see the house and house where I will stay eventually.
  • Then it’s off to Bouar, a town 2 hours further east.  That is where the national church offices are.
  • I will stay there for a couple of days to see what is there and then go ½ hour further north to Bohong.  There is a Lutheran clinic there and it is where I will study Sango (though not on this trip). 
  • After a couple of days in Bohong, I will go back to Baboua to get ready to go to study Sango.  By then, I should have a better idea which parts of the stuff I have I need there and which can stay in Baboua.
  • I will be studying Sango through Oct. and maybe into Nov.  We shall see how it goes!
  • I know already that early in November, I will be back in Bouar for a partners meeting.  That involves officials from the EEL-RCA (Eglise Evangelique Lutherienne- Republique Centrafricaine), people from synods who support programs in CAR (2 in North Dakota and LA-Gulf Coast), and those from other missions working in the area.  (More on that as it happens!)
 So, I will have a pick-up truck that will be “mine” to use.  It is a stick shift which I haven’t driven for a while, but I am more leery about the size and the road here.  Fortunately, I don’t have to drive tomorrow.  I figure I can get used to the roads in Baboua or Bohong where there is less traffic before I’m ready for them to “turn me loose”!  In any case, I need someone with me since I don’t know how to get anywhere – so that person might as well drive…
I did have a lesson today on how to check fluids under the hood and to find what I (or someone with me J) need to change a tire.  

Here's "my" truck.  It's on a carport so you can't get the full feel of its size...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Mpallango Tjanlingo

 Wow! What a day and what an honor! At the National Bishop's invitation, Themba, Elisabeth, and I went with him and the pastor of the area to worship in the church at Mpallango Tjalingo.  (Sorry, Internet connection still too slow to upload pictures...)

First a note about the organization of the church here and the ELCA mission. There are not yet enough pastors for every church to have one full time.  Each village with a church has an Evangelist who works with them.  Then, each region has a pastor, in this case Pr. Ousmano Dieudonne who serves 8 churches in his district.  He is able to visit them regularly, but not every Sunday.  Rev. Dr. Nyiwe Thomas is the bishop who heads the whole Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon.
Rev.Themba Mkhabela is a Regional Representative for the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) who supports theological education and interfaith communication.  (There are many Moslems in Cameroon as well as Baptists, Pentacostals, and other branches of Lutheranism.) Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Johnson is just arriving in country with me.  She will be studying French in N'gaoundere and then teaching Systematic Theology at the Seminary in Meiganga. I, of course, am meeting counterparts in Cameroon and will be going to CAR in about a week. 

 So, it was a huge occasion to have not only the pastor lead the worship, but the national bishop.  He, in turn brought us!  They had not expected us, but welcomed us with open arms.  It rained all night and continued this morning.  The car ride to Mpallango Tjanlingo was challenging since most of the road is not paved.  Although it was not too far, puddles, potholes, and mud kept our speed to a minimum.  Fortunately, we had a safe and experienced driver.  The village had a large welcome planned where some would meet us on motorcycles and many others would line the street near the entrance to the church.  Rain prevented these activities, but some members of other churches in the district were able to come.

We were welcomed in a ceremony in a hut near the church.  They fed us noodles and chicken and provided coffee or Grenadine soda.  After introductions and some conversation, the pastors went to put on their robes.  A line of women sand and danced at the entrance.  Once congregants (including Themba, Elisabeth, and I) were inside, the dancers processed, followed by the pastor, evangelist, and bishop.  Part of the liturgy included introducing us and allowing us to give brief remarks.  A couple of times, the people cheered! (for example, then they heard that Elisabeth will be teaching in Cameroon).  When I told them that my first task in CAR is to learn Sango and said hello in that language, they laughed and clapped again.  I should mention that all 3 of us, the bishop, the pastor, and the evangelist sat up front on a platform to the side or behind the altar.  Another honor for us!

The service was in a combination of French and the local African language with some English thrown in for and by us.  It was much like services in the US - Bible readings, sermon, announcements, communion.  We were also present for baptisms (4 infants and 3 young adults) and confirmation (2 other young adults).   There was much lively and joyful music with some people dancing in the small area between the pews (benches) and the altar area. 

After the liturgy (about 2 hours with all the extras...), we were again invited to the nearby hut.  We ate cassava and a meet dish.  Outside the people sang and danced with joy at our presence as one man played the drums.   Despite the mud and continuing drizzle, people stayed around. 

When we left, they lined the streets and followed the car to the intersection with the main road of the village.  Such singing, clapping, and cheering!  They did not want to see us go! They gave a gift of two (live) chickens to the bishop.  They rode back with us...  (held upside down by the legs with only occasional squawks!)

I feel privileged to have been invited to participate in this worship service and the welcoming ceremonies that surrounded it.  I know that they felt honored that people from the USA were there, but, really, I felt that the honor was mine - to be included in their daily life.  So many similarities, despite obvious differences.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Traveling in Cameroon

Part of my time in Cameroon is to enable me to meet people (mostly Cameroonians) working in Lutheran programs here.  In Yaoundé we visited UPAC, Université Protestante au Cameroon.  We were privileged to have time to talk to the Rector (head of the university), the Secretary General, and a small group of women who are involved in the Women’s Group (spouses of students.  There are female students, but currently no male spouses).  Our guide was Pastor Antoinette, a pastor from the Central African Republic who is finishing her doctorate; she defends her dissertation in December!  Everyone we met was gracious and informative. 

We left Yaoundé Wednesday, September 5, 2012 and traveled east then north to Garaou Boulai.  All of the road between these two cities is paved so it was smooth going!  We arrived in 7 ½ hours which included a ½-hour gas, bathroom, and food break.  Tthe road is one lane each direction with a little extra on each side.  It has lines, too, like any 2-lane road in the US.  Much of the way traffic was light; many vehicles were trucks – large or small.  It seems that many other truck drivers drive at night.

Here are some sights we saw:
* Much of the road has been recently completed, so we saw freshly cut passes through small hills – a couple of times rock “wall” lined the road; other times it was red, red soil that doesn’t yet have any plants.  Near the top workers have cut a path along which people can walk.
* Villages and towns built along the road have houses built from materials found nearby.  At first, they were woven sticks with mud filling in the gaps.  As we entered the Gbaya (an ethnic group) area, houses were made with mud brick.  Both kinds of buildings had thatched roofs.  There were also some round buildings. 
* Near the towns there are LOTS of stands selling cell phone credit!
* Trees I recognize include a few palm, mango, banana, and some citrus. By the way, many of the oranges they sell here are green or green and orange on the outside – they are orange inside and taste good.  There was also a gorgeous, large tree with yellow flowers that appear to be clusters of many small blooms.  I took a picture of this last kind of tree, but will be including no pictures with this entry because of limited Internet service. 
* In Gbaya country many people like to put cassava (manioc) along the side of the road to dry.  Advantage:  the area is flat and not muddy; disadvantage: all the passing traffic and resulting fumes!  We saw one woman hastily sweeping up here manioc as it began to rain.  Note:  cassava is the root of a plant that is eaten.  They cut it in pieces, wash it, dry it, pound it into powder, and finally mix it with water to make a dough-like preparation that is eaten with a sauce, often with the hands. 
* Along the road we sometimes saw piles of wood or sack of other things.  These are waiting for a ride (with those who will sell them) to another town.  I am not sure who picks them up, probably small buses, truck, friends…

In Garoua Boulai, we stayed overnight in a guest house.  We were invited to dinner by Dr. Solofo and his wife Joely.  They are both missionaries from Madagascar working at the hospital in town.  Great conversation and better food!

The next day we visited the hospital.  They have done amazing work and are supported by many partners so much of their equipment is state-of-the-art.  Next, we drove to Meiganga, a town a little less than 2 hours away.  This road is under construction, but most of it is not yet paved.  Because it is a dirt road, periodically there is a rain barrier.  Large trucks are not permitted to pass on the roads for a specific amount of time after the rain so that they don’t create more major problems and undo the grading work.  We drove through an impressive line of trucks waiting for permission to pass – it lined both sides of the road with more than 10-truck on each side!  We were permitted to pass because we have a smaller vehicle.  There were also a lot of motorcycles, too, that were permitted to pass.

In Meiganga, we visited the Institute Theologique Luteranne de Meiganga.  This is where Elisabeth will be teaching once she has learned French.  Classes there have not started, but we were able to meet the Dean and another professor.  After some conversation, we toured the institute and the house where Elisabeth will live after she finished French classes in N’gaoundéré. 

In a little less than 2 additional hours we reached N’gaoundéré.  We are staying at guest houses on the Lutheran Mission Campus.  It is gorgeous here, as are the houses.  Dr. Danki and his wife hosted us for dinner.  They work at the hospital that is a 5-minute walk away; he is a urologist (who also practices other medicine, as needed) and she is a physical therapist.  Once again we were shown fantastic hospitality.

Friday morning we met with the National Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Cameroon.  He talked to us about the history of US missions, which began in 1923.  There also 2 other Lutheran groups in the country: the Lutheran Brethren in the northern part of the country (whose US headquarters are in Minnesota) and churches supported by the Wisconsin Synod.  We also learned about other Lutheran programs in Cameroon and the recent ordination of the first women pastors here.

This is the rainy season, so it has rained every day, but not all day.  It has often been overcast although we see the sun sometimes.  For example, it was sunny in the morning today, but got cloudier as the day went on.  The rain began about 5:30 p.m.  We had been out about town in the afternoon, but were, fortunately home before the major rain.

Send questions that you would like me to answer and I will do my best to address them!