Saturday, September 26, 2015

Deux Fetes

Last April Pastor Djidere Nguembe Nestor was elected regional bishop for our area (the East
Region).  Although he began his work this summer, his official installation was Sunday, September 20, 2015.  An installation is a huge celebration as well as the formal event during the Sunday liturgy.  (On a personal level, this event was significant since I have known Bishop Nestor since I came to live in Garoua Boulai a couple of years ago and he was Director of the Bible School.)  Here’s a picture of me in the new dress I bought for the two celebrations described here.

As you might imagine, lots of planning and work goes into organizing such a fete (celebration).  Relatives and supporters came from all over.  The national bishop was here to do the installing. 

One of the first big questions was where to hold the liturgy.  With a couple of thousand people expected, would they fit in the church?  The areas outside the church and by the Bible School were certainly large enough and also considered, but this is the end of the rainy season when the rains are frequent and often intense.  In the end, the church was filled with chairs – fancy and plastic – with the benches set up outside the door under tents.  In the end over 1,400 people attended!  Holding the service inside the church was a good choice as heavy rains came part way through the service.  Rain came sideways at times because of the wind and mist even those of us inside and not too close to the windows.  I am sure those outside got wet, but at least it wasn’t everyone and the service could continue.

The protocol committee set up seating and directed people to appropriate places which were marked with names on sticky notes.  When expecting so many people, it is important to use all available space.  I know, too, that being upfront is an honor.  And, though honor dictates that I sit on the side upfront, I have to say, it is not my preferred place to be.  Unfortunately, it is difficult to see much of anything.  Here my view once everyone was seated…  The sound system was set up (with one large speaker close to my seat) and worked pretty well.  (Unfortunately, the huge speakers and the system often generate a fair amount of distortion.  At least it wasn’t too loud.) 

The liturgy was standard with the addition of the installation.  The national bishop installed Bishop Nestor; then the regional bishop installed his assistant.  That part was much like I imagine it would be in the USA although in French, of course.  The outgoing bishop preached the sermon.  Then, time was added into the service for people to bring gifts to the new bishop and his assistant.  These people also greeted the newly installed officials.  (That took a significant amount of time!)  The service ended with various people making remarks.  (I don’t think we do that in the US, but I’m not sure…  I’m not usually present at bishops’ installations!)  The whole service lasted about three hours.

Dr. Solofo and Bishop Nestor

Lydie, Bishop's wife

Assistant Bishop and his wife
The celebration actually started the night before the liturgy.  People from out of town, of course, arrived the day before.  I don’t know where they were all housed, but know that the guest houses were full and I am sure members of the congregation hosted people.  Many people gathered at the bishop’s house – across the street from me.  Music and singing started at about 7 p.m.  They used the sound system – turned up very loud; it was at a comfortable listening level for me in my living room!  The celebration continued into the night.  At about 2:30 a.m. the rain started and the amplification ended.  I thought everyone would turn in for some sleep, but about 10 minutes later the a cappella singing started; fortunately for me, it wasn’t nearly as loud.  Celebrate!  (Yes, I got intermittent sleep – and it was quiet when I woke up at 6 a.m.) 

Now, imagine feeding all the guests after the liturgy.  Wow.  Women cooked over outdoor wood fires for hours and created a huge spread.  Invited guests, mostly from out of town, but including people
like me, ate at the EELC Social Center.  We could choose from lots of options:  beef, fish, chicken, boa constrictor, monkey, plantains, manioc, yams, pasta salad, tomato salad…  They had two buffet tables set up in two different rooms.  (One with china plates and one with plastic disposables – imagine all the clean-up required, too!)  Local guests were invited to the bishop’s house for sandwiches. (That is what was announced; I didn’t see what they served.)  A huge thank you to all the women who worked hard to feed the multitude.

Many participants left Sunday afternoon although some stayed until Monday.  We are still settling back into routines after all the excitement.

Fete des Moutons
Thursday, September 24 was Eid al-Adha, Arabic meaning Festival of Sacrifice. This Muslim holiday commemorates when Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son – and at the last minute God came to him and said not to kill him as the sacrifice was already accepted.  Tradition says that the food is to be divided in thirds for family, relatives/friends/neighbors, and the poor/needy.  Here in Cameroon, it is often called the festival of the sheep because many people share this meat for their celebration.  In GB there is a religious celebration outside of town and lots of celebrations with family and friends.  This holiday also marks the end of the traditional time to make a hajj – a trip to Mecca and Medina which is required of all Muslims who are able.

The “Fete des Moutons” is a national holiday in Cameroon so most stores, schools, and government offices are closed.

This year, for the first time, I was invited to share a meal with some Muslim friends.  Sani invited me and arranged for his friend to pick me up in his car.  (He doesn’t live too far away; the house is at the other end of town.)  Food was ready as I arrived about 3:30 p.m.  We had mutton, goat, pasta with plantains, salad, tea, Coke, and water.  They served me first on three heaping plates.  Then they dumped the other food onto a large tray from which they ate.  I appreciated the acknowledgement of my cultural norms, but assured them I could eat from the tray with them, as is their tradition.  (Plus, they had given me enough food for at least three people – by putting it back into the common tray, I could eat my fill and not feel obliged to try to eat more than my share!) 

I found the arrangement in the house interesting.  On entering the house, there is an entry way with part that leads to the rest of the house.  On the right was a room with rugs, a mat, pillows and a television.  Beside the hall was a small, room where we ate.  It was enclosed by bars dividing it from the rest of the house and had a door – also grill work – that could be padlocked.  In the room were four of the ubiquitous plastic chairs with a matching plastic table.  There was no room for people to move around the table once we were seated. 

During the meal, we chatted – often with me answering questions about the USA and our culture.  After we ate, we moved to the TV room and watched the news.  Did you hear about the tragedy in Mina, near Mecca?  There was a stampede crushing many people – over 700 dead and 800 more wounded.  People from all over the world died, including seven Cameroonians.  I am told that no one from Garoua Boulai who went was involved.  Saudi Arabia has the huge task of preparing for 2-3 million visitors and is trying to plan for up to 9 million in future years.  What a very sad occurrence this year.  My heart goes out to the affected families and friends. 

You might wonder why I participated at all in this festival; I am a Christian after all.  I believe that our best chance for lasting peace in this world begins at the local level.  We must all be willing to listen to and interact with our neighbors, especially those who are different from us.  We must know them and see them as fellow human beings who share the same feelings, problems, hopes, and joys.  I don’t expect to convert or be converted in the conversations I have with my Muslim friends in Garoua Boulai, but I do hope to promote understanding, peace, and a strong willingness to work together.  (Interesting note: when talking to some of these Muslim friends about the continuing road insecurity in CAR, two of them told me that they would come and get me if ever I were taken hostage!  OK...  Of course, I am never going to be in a place where hostage-taking is remotely possible, but isn’t it a sign of friendship that these “strangers” or “others” would be willing to put themselves at risk for me??)  Many thanks to Sani and his family for a delightful afternoon and the offer of friendship. 

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