Monday, March 30, 2015

On the Road Again

Jump in the car!  Let's hit the road. Oh, wait.  Did you pack the suitcase? Get the flashlight/lamp? Pack the water? Grab the umbrella (the rainy season’s started)?  Check fuel and oil in the car? Get the passe-avant? 

Some of those questions are ones you would ask before going on a trip; some not.  You need the water and lamp because you never know if utilities will be working when you get where you are going, even if it is a city like Yaoundé or N’gaoundéré.  Yaoundé is the capital, but its infrastructure is overtaxed by the huge numbers of people who have migrated there.  N’gaoundéré has regular electricity, but the level of power is sometimes low and sometimes lights won’t go on.

Then there’s the car.  I am down to 2 ELCA cars in front of my house in GB (and one from the German CAR mission) – the others are back in service in CAR.  I came to N’gaoundéré yesterday and had planned to bring the Land Cruiser; it had the passe-avant to come this direction.  Think about wanting to take a road trip to Canada or Mexico or to rent a car and drive around Europe.  What would happen at the border?  There are formalities, right?  Passport check, maybe a check inside the car, then on your way.

Here, to take a car registered in CAR into Cameroon, you need a document called a passe-avant (go ahead, literally) that give you permission to drive the vehicle into the country for a limited time.  It will allow you to go just one place (and back).  So, when I went to Yaoundé, I had to get a passe-avant but I couldn’t use the same one when I came to N’gaoundéré.  Fortunately, since Garoua Boulai is a border town and we know the customs officials, I don’t need any special document when I am driving around town.  But leaving GB is different…

In my logic, since there were two vehicles, I’d get a passe-avant for each one to go each direction.  But, no.  A person can have one passe-avant at a time to go one direction.  It makes sense in that one person can only drive one car at a time… Different logic than mine that would have allowed greater freedom of movement.  Still, if the object is to control where foreign vehicles are, their system makes sense…  So, I had a passe-avant for the Land Cruiser for N’gaoundéré.  I got special permission to have a document for two weeks to go to Yaoundé.  So, all set.  At the end of the week, I thought I had what I needed for this trip.

But, wait!  Let’s complicate things some more.  The Land Cruiser was having some trouble starting and needed some work.  Then, it needed a part they don’t have in GB.  No problem.  Someone was coming from N’gaoundéré and could bring it.  He did, but it didn’t fit!  It goes back with the one that doesn’t work so they can get the right one/size.

Sigh.  So, I took the expired Yaoundé passe-avant and the still-good N’gaoundéré one for the Land Cruiser that won’t run back to customs at the border.  (No, you can’t just use one written for one car with another…)  I now have a month-long document for the pick-up.  It is a double cab one that is actually newer and more comfortable than the Land Cruiser so I guess I did well…

Note:  for a while I was driving a Cameroonian vehicle from the church here, but other visitors came and it was needed.  How could I argue when I have two others I can use.  I just have to plan ahead if I want to leave GB!

So why am I in N’gaoundéré?  I met Willie Langdji here so that we can do the Planning, Monitoring, and Evaluating workshop for program leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon.  Two days starting today!  This is the same workshop we did for Central African leaders in February. 

Hope you have a great Palm Sunday.  I did go to church before I left GB and we did wave palms!  The pastor even talked about keeping them at home until next year so they can be used to make the Ash Wednesday ashes in 2016!

(Sorry, no pictures! Limited internet connection and I didn’t take any, anyway.)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Trauma Healing and Some Relaxation

Last Sunday, I traveled to Yaoundé – about 8 uneventful hours.  I came to help facilitate a workshop about healing the wounds of trauma.  This is the same seminar I attended in Bamenda (western, Anglophone Cameroon) in August.  It was in English then. 
This is also the same course that I taught at the Bible School in Garoua Boulai.  In both GB and this time it was taught in French.  As one of the facilitators, I got certified for the next level – I can now teach my own “Equipping Seminars.” 

How does all this work?  The purpose of the trauma healing groups is to accompany those who have faced trauma so that they can begin to heal.  A large part of the process is learning to listen to them – without judgment or advice.  Participants in the group find a safe place to share their stories and to help each other begin healing– as they also get more information about the process they are going through. 

Leaders who want to organized healing groups attend an “Equipping Seminar,” which helps them better understand the lessons, the process used, and to get a little practice teaching others.  After this first seminar and the experience of leading at least one group, a person can return to help teach the seminar in order to be able to lead one (independently or with others).  There is an Advanced Seminar which gives further information about various topics covered and spends even more time refining teaching techniques.  I have not yet taken that final step, but may have that opportunity in the summer. 

I am very impressed with this Trauma Healing Course, written originally in Africa by SIL leaders and now run internationally by the Bible Society (including the American Bible Society).  It is biblically based and also grounded in solid counselling/psychology practices.  I have, in my limited time with the program, seen healing begin.  And, of course, the need is intense in this part of the world.  If all goes as planned, I will one of two facilitators for leaders of the Central African Evangelical Lutheran Church at the beginning of April.  Obviously, their need is also great.

The workshop this week was sponsored by Open Doors International, an organization that supports Christians who are persecuted.  The 27 participants were all part of a Christian denomination, CMCI (the French initials for the Christian Missionary Community International).  These people are all based in Yaoundé and are anxious to start healing groups here in town. 

One lesson we taught explored ways leaders can take care of themselves, especially when surrounded by trauma and when working with people whose lives are full of wounds caused by trauma.  As you might imagine, one way is to relax, take some time off to get distance, and to interact with others socially.  So, I did some of that, too, this week!

First, every day I went for a walk.  The calmest and prettiest were around the compound of CTC/SIL where I was staying and where the workshop was held.  I also walked along the main road sometimes (but no pictures of the exhaust fumes and scads of taxis, cars, and trucks).

Next, the Rain Forest International School (RFIS) staged their high school play this weekend and I had the chance to go Friday.  This is the school where Christa Troester (daughter of my former next-door neighbors in Baboua, CAR) is currently a senior.  In fact, she was the assistant director of “Barbequing Hamlet.”  It turned out that another facilitator of the workshop, Ann, has sons who were part of the stage crew.  When Ann mentioned the play during a coffee break, I jump at the chance to go – and basically invited myself along with her family.   (She graciously accepted.)  It has been a long time
since I was in high school (sigh), but I have been to many school plays over the years and love going.  This one was well worth the effort!  The tenth graders prepared dinner which was served in classrooms – ample food that was delicious.  Then we watched the comedy about a community theatre that stages Hamlet – with advertisements added including a western setting with barbeque.  The actors were great and the play totally enjoyable.  Congratulations to the actors, directors, stage crew, set designers, cooks and everyone else who was involved.  It is so good to laugh!

This morning I went to church (mostly in Gbaya) led by Pastor Ngimbe Nestor.  I worked with him last year in GB when he was the director of the Bible School.  He is now the parish pastor.  Another pastor who teaches at the Bible School was staying at his house.  I also got to see Pastor Ndende Ange, pastor from Baboua who is currently studying in Yaounde.  And, I am now staying for a couple of days with the Langdjis.  More time to visit and relax. 

Tomorrow I have errands to run and then I head back to GB Tuesday.  It has been a full schedule but productive and helpful.  I am, however, looking forward to going back to less humidity – still hot, and the rains have restarted, but GB seems to be less humid and has more cooling breezes.  (I won’t miss Yaoundé traffic either.)

May you find someone who listens, really listens, when you need healing of a heart wound.  And, may you also provide the listening ear when someone around you has need. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

When is Helping Not Helping?

How do we help in constructive ways that will build a better world for the next generations?

As I was talking with some Central Africans who are working with a humanitarian aid project recently and one commented that it is not good to just give people things because then they expect to get more later and aren’t willing to help.  Wow!  What an insightful comment!  This man is working in an area that was devastated by fighting 18 months ago.  People fled, spent weeks in the bush, and came back to burned out houses and destroyed crops.  A humanitarian crisis of major proportions. 

My friend reported that a couple of the villages received monetary and food aid.  (I don’t know the details and didn’t ask.)  Now, he is working with Lutheran Disaster Response and the Evangelical Lutheran Church - Central African Republic in an accompaniment model project.  That means that the beneficiaries are actively involved in all aspects of the project – from planning, to implementing, to evaluating.  Further, villagers are organized into teams who share tools and work together to make mud bricks and build houses.  Later, as the rains come, they will work together to plant and harvest. 
Most people are thrilled to have the support and anxious to be involved.  These are their villages, their lives.  They like having some control and being active participants.  We hope that in working together, they can rebuild peace and various groups be reconciled to a life that includes respect for those who are different than they are.  We hope, too, that they will all be less willing to destroy houses in the future since they helped build them! 

There are, however, the one or two villages that received “free” aid some time ago.  My friend says they now sit back with their arms crossed and ask for more.  Why aren’t you feeding us as we work?  Why can’t we have houses with tin roofs instead of thatch?  Why can’t you just give us the money? 

They got once (or often, who knows?) so now they sit with their hands (figuratively) out wanting more.  Those who want to do “drive-by” giving often throw money at a problem or give what they think is needed because it can be done quickly and the giver can feel good about having done something.  This is (often intentionally) condescending and paternalistic.  In the long run, I believe it is also harmful to both the giver and the receiver.  The receiver will, sooner or later, become resentful and/or dependent.

I am pleased to say that the people expecting handouts are the minority.  (And, they don’t get what they ask for!  They, too, have to participate to benefit.)  But I think their attitude shows the huge advantage of accompaniment projects as opposed to those which bring materials or food or money and just leave it. 

This situation makes me think of a great poem by Shel Silverstein, “Helping.”  The first examples are
accompaniment (not that he would have called them that).  The teams work together to complete the task and then benefit together.  And then there is Zachary Zugg.

Accompaniment is needed in many situations, not just CAR or strife-torn regions.  How can those of us who have more work with those in need in ways that are respectful, inclusive, and based on the true needs of the “beneficiaries”?  We can also learn and grow, but it demands some time and effort on our parts.  And, initially, we may be viewed as hard-hearted or mean that we won’t just give what we have.  It is worth insisting on accompaniment.  

Sunday, March 8, 2015

International Women’s Day – March 8, 2015

International Women's Day is a MUCH bigger deal in Cameroon than in the USA.  We have much to learn!

Festivities actually begin March 1 with various activities.  One big one was a food festival from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. outside town hall here in Garoua Boulai.  Many women prepared foods from around the country – they were labeled by region.  I tasted several, including some Ndolé and plantains made by Merilee – pictured here.  (I know her from other food preparation she has done for meeting for us.)  Many of the women used regular plates and metal silverware.  I was glad to see so little plastic (even though my food was on one such plate.)  There was also (loud) music – and the men sold beer… 

Saturday, there was a dance at the Sous-Préfet’s building.  Lots of music and people.  There was also a lot of music and dancing into the evening at local bars.  Celebrations galore.

Cameroon makes a commemorative material each year (with a choice of two color variations).  You can buy the material in six yard pieces to make something or ready-made dresses.  I got a ready-made one.  Here’s a picture of me in my living room – by a painting I bought recently – I almost match, no? (But not quite…)

So if you had such a dress, when would you start to wear it?  I debated, but decided to put it on when I went to the food festival Friday, March 6.  By my house, I saw one friend who complemented me on the dress.  Then, two minutes later, two strangers told me I had to go home and change.  They told me that no one wears the dresses before March 8.  In fact, they said, if I were in Yaoundé, women would throw stones at me for the breach!  It is permissible to wear dresses from previous years and many do wear them often in early March.  So, I went home and changed.  Live and learn.  Note:  I took the photo today, so I am “legally” wearing the dress.

Today there was a parade that officially started at 10 a.m.  Church was shorter than usual with French and Gbaya in one service.  It was over by 10.  I walked into town in the direction of the parade, but ended up chatting with some friends.  Then I decided that parades never start on time – 2-3 hours late is the norm, and it was hot and sunny.  The next decision was that I would not go to the parade grounds.  I am told that many women’s groups march/dance together wearing dresses of the official material.  I am sure they had a good time.

I was invited to lunch with friends (Solofo, Joely, and Brian).  We had a great visit and had our own private celebration.

It feels very humid today although my little indicator only says 52%.  It is hot and I feel sticky.  Ah, well, it is equatorial Africa at the end of the dry season.  We actually had about 10 drops of rain 45 minutes ago, but except for the cloudy sky nothing else seems to have changed. 

Marthe, Me, Gertrude, Pastor Abel
I have spent three intensive days working with two women and a man on four planning documents for each of four Central African church programs.  They worked diligently and long.  The documents that needed the least revision were the ones for Pastor Rachel’s Lutheran Center!  A fitting way to end a blog for International Women’s Day.

What change do you think women need and want that will advance all humanity?  I can’t narrow my opinion to one, so I say an end to abuse and human trafficking.  Peace would be good, too, but that is for everyone. 

Celebrate the women in your life.  Happy International Women’s Day – March 8.