Friday, October 31, 2014

Participatory Learning

October 31, 2014 (Halloween and Reformation Day!) 

I have finally begun teaching my first Trauma Healing Class.  It took time to get off the ground-partly because I didn't personally know some of the first people I invited.  They also didn't know what the class was about.  After weeks of delay and two false starts, I went to Plan B. 


 I am now getting my feet wet with the students I teach at the Lutheran School for Theological and Biblical Training here in GB.  There are more students that I had planned for (18), but they are eager and happy to participate.  And, I know them somewhat since I have been teaching a two-hour class once a week for a month or so.


The format of the Trauma Healing class would not surprise people in the US.  We start each lesson with a story that sets the scene for the days learning.  Then, work is done with a combination of small and large group discussions.  We chart what is said with a secretary for the small groups or on the board for large groups work.

This style of teaching is, well, foreign here.  Students usually sit in traditional rows and don’t participate much.  They are more likely to copy text from the board as the teacher writes. In my classes, I had already been asking them questions and having them all participate, but it is still new to them.  They laugh when I ask them to agree/disagree with an answer with thumbs up/down.  They laugh, but they do it and I can see who understands.

Talking about difficult topics in groups or as a class is getting better, but slowly.  I sometimes have to challenge them to get them started.  One early question was how their local culture views God.  The first responses were “correct” Christian views.  When I asked about God viewed as Nature, they began to open up.  At a couple of points there was even lively discussion.  Someone would make a statement which provoked a spate of heated discussion in Gbaya. They would reach some consensus and then make a statement in French.  (I am still struggling with my Gbaya-learning and am nowhere near able to teach the class in that language.  I am glad they can use it among themselves, though, as needed.)

We have completed Lessons 1 and 2.  I look forward to watching the participation grow and expand as the course continues. 

Water Tower Update
I got some pictures of the water tower work from Elie SANDA (Administrator for ECLA).  Look at the before pictures (inside and outside the tower) and then the finished product with the workers posing in front.  I have much more confidence about the quality of the water coming into my house! (I will still filter what I drink, but the filter should have less work to do.)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

God's Creatures and Maintenance

God's Creatures 
I am fascinated by ants.  Can’t say why.  I don’t like them living in the house with me and I have written about them before, but I continue to be fascinated by their hives and activities.  So, as I was walking this week, I took a picture of a thriving nest in the grass. (Yes, the swampy grass that has been saturated with all the rain we have had!)  Too bad you can’t see the ants themselves as I could.  They also form smaller nests in the dirt, around the base of my porch, and just about everywhere!  Small and mighty.

The children this week have been fascinated with grasshoppers.  I
saw a couple of boys in my yard; it looked like they were whipping the grass.  Each had a thin stick with smaller branches at the top that they were using like whips.  Upon reflection I realized that they were aiming for grasshoppers.  You should have heard the shouts of triumph when they got one!  They will eat them – extra protein that I am not sure I’m ready for…  Kids have been in the lawn around the station most days this week.  Grasshopper season, it seems.

OK, this last one isn't a creature, but it is fascinating.  Not far from my house are two cell phone towers (for two different companies).  I was talking a picture of cloud formations (which always catch my attention) and caught a picture that looks like God is talking directly through the tower! We need more of this direct communication to bring peace and cooperation on earth…

Most people in the US know the value of regular maintenance of property.  Many Central Africans and Cameroonians have not yet learned or accepted the need to do it.  (Personally, I think it comes from subsistence living for a long time.  How can you learn to think about the future, especially a long-term future of buildings, etc. if you are worried about what you will eat today?)  Fortunately, the Cameroonians responsible for the station where I live understand the value and need for maintenance. 

So, not too long ago, I got some electrical outlets in my house fixed and 2 weeks ago, someone came to fix my kitchen light when it suddenly stopped working.  This week, workers are repairing and extending a fence around Drs. Solofo and Joely’s house.  They are also working on the water tower.


For the water tower work they first had to cut some branches and a tree that were too close to it.  Then, when it was empty, they got inside to clean out the gunk and seal a couple of cracks.  Soon, it will be back in service with cleaner water and no leaks.  In the meantime, we are getting water from the bladder.  That big, yellow, balloon-like thing on the ground belongs to Doctors Without Borders.  The same pump that usually fills the water tower fills it.  (It’s empty in this photo.)  Regularly, a truck with another bladder comes to take water to the nutrition center where DWB work.  So, for a few days I have no running water, but containers of it.  Temporary inconvenience for permanent improvement.  (Isn’t that what they say in cases like this?) The last picture is a seat that guards of the bladder use.  Beautiful wood, no? 

I have had some maintenance this week as well.  I picked up a respiratory infection, probably because of all the rain and germs that grow in abundance as a result.  Fortunately, I live beside the Protestant Hospital.  It is also fortunate that we live in a time of antibiotics and medications that can take care of such pesky bugs.  I have felt fine but recognized symptoms that told me I need to go in for a check-up! 

The CAR/Cameroonian border is still open.  The Cameroonian military have used a bull dozer to knock down building between the two barriers and just across the Central African border.  This provides an open zone to enable officials to see who is coming.  I have not seen it as I don’t go that close to the border for security reasons.  Even if I did go, I wouldn’t take pictures; it wouldn’t be appreciated with all the increased security. 

Central Africans have been able to come to work with me although less than I might like.  They are busy with project activities, though, which are more important.  We are moving forward, though.  Today I worked with Sani-Salaa Mouhamadou who will begin computer training classes in Baboua.  Money for this project comes from my home church, East Liberty Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh, PA and Lutheran Disaster Response.  It is part of capacity building for the community – enabling Christians and Muslims to work together positively.  Note to ELLC: the plan was to start a pilot program with people coming from Baboua to Garoua Boulai but that got complicated with the border closing.  Then, we found someone who could do it there.  The travel money is going toward paying for part of the stipend for Sani.  Here we are working together so that he could take money today.  Classes start Wednesday!  A committee of five Central Africans has been instrumental in planning this project and getting it started.  What a pleasure to work with dedicated folks.

The situation in CAR remains much the same.  Bangui has calmed down again.  Many people are trying to go back to regular activities.  There is more security than last year, but pockets of problems.  Pray for peace.  

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.