Saturday, August 24, 2013


Lutheran Station in Garoua Boulai
I think everyone has a period of readjustment after a vacation.  I remember lots of them as a new school started when I worked for the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS).  So, I shouldn’t be surprised that it is taking me time to readjust to work in Cameroon after my month-long trip to the USA.  I think a lot of it can be attributed to continuing uncertainty – much more than I ever faced with the PPS.  OK, those of you who work for the PPS (or any other school district!) and who are starting up this week (or last week, or soon), know what it feels like to be overwhelmed.  Yes, the work is similar to last year, but there are changes – in district priorities and/or what they are asking of staff.  And, there are new students, new parents…  Each year we forget how much energy it takes to establish routines and procedures in a classroom while also attending to all the details that the district considers essential.  We don’t know how things will go for the year, but we do understand the framework of the work and have experience with the process.

So how is it different here?  Let me count the way!  First, there was a lot more travel involved to get back here, including a 5-hour time change.  I am back to speaking a lot of French instead of being surrounded by English.  I also hear Sango and Gbaya and feel like I need to do more to become proficient in those. 

Next, there is much more uncertainty in my current return.  I knew it was likely, but dealing with it day-by-day is sometimes wearing.  Although security in CAR is better in some ways, overall insecurity is still rampant.  Villages and the capital are still plagued by violence.  So, I won’t be going back to CAR right away, even though everything remains calm in Baboua, my “home” town. 

I worry about my Central African colleagues – well, everyone there, really, especially those in the villages who have no say in the difficulties that have invaded their lives.  Please continue to pray for peace in CAR and stability in the people’s lives again.

As I arrived back in Garoua Boulai, I found boxes of books and other materials from Joe and Deb Troester who worked in Baboua for 5 years and lived in the house next to mine.  Dr. Joe worked with PASE, a program working to bring clean water to villages, and Pastor Deb taught at the Theological Seminary.  Neither could do their work at a distance; so, with the continuing insecurity, they have left definitively.  I will miss them and the support they gave me during my first year of work.  I wish them the best as they look for their next job and face much larger readjustment issues that I do!  I also appreciate the books and materials they have left behind for us to share. 

I took time upon arrival to sort through and organize my new and older books.  I love books!  (I am extremely
grateful for my Kindle which provides me with an endless supply, but have really enjoyed reading “real” books this week!)  I have reorganized the bookcase in the guest house living/dining room so that the old mission books are on the bottom two shelves.  These are novels and religions books for children and adults that have been here for years (some are dated 1959!).  On the other shelves are now books divided by language (Sango, Gbaya, French, English-language learning) and topic (papers for work, and novels).  Organized and ready to use – though I don’t look forward to having to move them – the one major drawback to “real” books!

I can’t go back to Baboua to work yet, but I can do a lot from Garoua Boulai. Yesterday, the Village School Program leadership team came to meet with me.  We had a productive meeting (as we always do, I am very happy to say!) in the guest house where I stay.  This picture shows Arnold Minang, Accountant; Mathias Votoko, Community Developer; Abel Service, Director; me, Education Adviser; and David Zodo, Pedagogical Adviser.  One person (in Baboua) commented to me (on the phone) that I was in Baboua yesterday because the VSP team was with me and I am with them all in spirit.  So true.  Distance may make connections more difficult, but I am connected to many anyway – in lots of different places.  It is a pleasure to work with these people again.

I am also content that everyone I meet is happy to see me in GB again – including a couple of Fulani women I pass regularly on the street!  They did a double take when they saw me for the first time after a month and smiled shyly saying “Sanu” (hello).  It feels good to be recognized and appreciated (even if we don’t speak the same language or know each other)! 

I have noticed another cultural phenomenon.  My weight has not changed much over the past year.  Still, when I went to the US, various people said, “Oh, you lost weight!”  Now that I am back, several people have said, “Oh, you’re gained weight!”  In both contexts, these are complements.  How our perceptions are colored by what our culture values/thinks about. 

I have restarted my work with the Village School Program and Christian Education.  I will also be having discussions with the National President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of CAR, the Director of the Bible School in GB, and others to see if I can support other education programs in CAR and/or Cameroon while I am based in GB. 

Uncertainty abounds so readjustment more difficult, but I am trying to focus on the positive and the known.  There is much that I can learn and do, including learning to better live with uncertainty.  I thank God for the support of family, colleagues, friends, and readers of this blog as I do my best based here in Garoua Boulai.

Friday, August 16, 2013


So I have spent a lot of time "on the road" in the last month.  I want to write a bit about travels around Paris and the trip from Paris to Yaoundé since I figure most of my readers know about travel in the US!  (By the way, I had great visits with family and friends during my time in Pennsylvania and Memphis, TN.)

Paris is a great city that makes it very easy to get around.  First, there is an extensive metro system.  While it may take some time to walk between connecting lines, signs are everywhere to help travelers know where to go.  (Lines are named using numbers and the names of the stations at each end of the line.)  Just before arriving at the platform, there is a list of stops from there to the end of the line.  It is very easy to figure out if the train that stops at that platform will get you where you want to go.  In addition, there are metro maps posted everywhere – on the platforms, in the halls near exits, and near ticket counters.  Also, near the exits are street maps of the neighborhood.  These maps are often by bus shelters or on street corners, too.  True, one has to be a literate map reader, but having so many available encourages such literacy!  It was a pleasure to get around.  You can’t really get lost in the city either, since you just have to find a metro station and you can get back to where you want to be. 
Some metro stations have fancy decorations.  Here’s a picture of the metro station closest to my hotel, Cluny-La Sorbonne.  These are signatures of people who lived in the neighborhood over the last 800 years! 

Since I was only there 2 ½ days, I only took one bus.  They are also clearly mapped out with stops listed on a route map at stops, but it is harder (for me) to know which bus goes where even though connecting buses are marked on the metro maps.  If I had more time, I would love to get on a bus and just go – to see more and become comfortable with the system.  

I was able to get all-day passes (for all forms of public transportation), so I rode a lot and walked a lot in between!  My goal was to see the outside of many landmarks.  Lines were long for museums and my time was short, so I figured I could see the outsides of many!  I also went on a walk through the past.  I visited a couple of neighborhoods I knew when I studied in Paris when I was in college.  That was fun!  Things were different, but not as much as you might think.  35 years is a drop in the bucket for a city that is centuries old!
"Free as the Air"
 I also saw cars and bicycles that people can rent – sort of like Zip cars in Pittsburgh.  People pay a fee at a kiosk and then unlock the car/bike and drive off.  Great idea.  Lots of areas of the city also now have bike lanes.  All right!

My all day pass included transportation to and from the airport.  On the way into town, it was quick, easy and efficient.  There is a regional train that goes into town and connects with the metro system in several places, one of which was the stop closest to my hotel.  Travel back was a different story.  I got an email from Air France that this train would be closed for repairs from Thurs. to Sun. (I left on Thurs.!  I was very grateful that the airline gave me the news in advance!)  So I spent time on Wed. afternoon exploring alternative options.  I asked questions at several metro information booths, but about ½ of them didn’t realize that the train I wanted wasn’t running.  I found two possible buses to use.  Getting to one station was easier, but it would have been harder to find the bus connection there.  I chose to go to Opera metro station and take the Roissey bus.  It was easy to find and had a schedule.  But, imagine.  Think about how many people get on a metro train that runs every 5-10 minutes.  Now, think about how many buses it would take to handle that number of people! 

So, here was my morning schedule on the day of departure. (Plane to leave at 13:55 – 1:55 p.m. so I was to be at the airport at 11.)  I left the hotel about 8:15 a.m., earlier than I need to go, but I was ready.  It took ½ hour to get to the Opera metro station.  When I got to the bus stop, there was a LONG line of passengers with suitcases already.  I waited ½ hour to get to the front of the line and got on the 3rd bus.  (Actually, all of us waited about 20 minutes before a bus came; then there were 3 in a row with only loading time between departures.)  I was very glad to have left early since the line was twice as long when I left as when I arrived!  I would have had time, but would have stood in line much longer.  The bus took about 30 minutes. 

The Paris airport is huge!  There are 3 terminals.  At Terminal 2 (mine) there are sections A-F.  Finding the right place was a challenge.  I am happy to say that there was not a lot of increased security (after the recent heightened alerts), but a woman searched my backpack because the screener on the x-ray machine didn’t like seeing all the cords I had (computer cord, Kindle connection, earphones for the plane…)  Since she searched my bag, I was also patted down.  (Sigh)

All in all I was glad to have gone early.  I was able to stop for a snack after checking my bags and then had time to read at the gate. 

Arriving in Yaoundé was uneventful, but with lots of people.  I came on a flight with 4 people visiting Cameroon (from South Dakota and Minnesota) so we met up and came out together.  The luggage carrousel was close by, but there were masses of people and suitcases seemed to come out sporadically.  Once I got mine, I was temporarily trapped where I was by luggage carts that were put behind me.  Still, all the luggage for all 5 of us arrived with no difficulties.  Two of us had our bags searched.  (I knew because three was a form inside one telling me that they had looked at it.  Nothing was missing.)

So, travel everywhere can be easy, but long.  Next, on Monday, I travel (by car) to Garoua Boulai; exact details are still being worked out.  I will not be going to CAR immediately, so I will work from GB as I was doing before, with the hope of soon being able to go to Baboua for a day at a time – to test the waters, so to speak.  (We are getting news from CAR that the security is improving, but there are still some disturbing incidents.)

Travel expands the mind and gives us lots of experiences, but long days can be tiring!  May your travels be safe and enjoyable, too!