Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving and Grief

Happy Thanksgiving plus one to all. Thanksgiving is a holiday in the USA and not many other countries of the world, but the desire to pause, reflect and be grateful is universal, in my opinion.  This week I do it with a heavy heart.

My heart is heavy for all the violence, death, hate and fear – yes, I am thinking of the world, in general, but more specifically of the Central African Republic. The vast majority of people there want to live and eek out their often-difficult lives but continue to live with greater hardship because of continuing ‘insecurity”. (Bandits who steal and extort money.  People who kill because others are different than they are.  Those who think more of their own gain and greed than their neighbors or their country…) 

But I am grateful for those who work for peace.  Particularly, this week, I am grateful that Pope Francis will spend 25 hours in Bangui on Sunday and Monday meeting with Christians and Muslims and holding a mass open to all.  I hope his visit brings positive attention to CAR and hope to Central Africans who will know they are not alone.  (This picture of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Bangui comes from the website of Radio Siriri (Peace), a Central African station.)

My heart is heavy for the Centre de Santé Emmanuel Gallo, the health clinic that is one of the projects of the Evangelical Lutheran Church – CAR.  There was a terrible accident Tuesday afternoon as the chauffer and various health workers were leaving Bouar for Gallo and Baboua.  CSEG’s Dr. Marcelin, the doctor of the state hospital in Baboua, and the chauffer were treated at the Catholic hospital in Bouar, but needed to be evacuated to a bigger hospital in Bangui.

I am grateful that the UN operates air service for Humanitarian Aid workers and that they were willing to take the three to Bangui Thursday morning. 

My heart is heavy that Charlemagne, the long-time driver for CSEG died at the end of that flight. 

I am grateful that the two doctors are now at the hospital in Bangui receiving the care they need.  May their recovery be speedy. 

My heart is heavy that the two hospitals in Gallo and Baboua must live without their doctors during their recuperation.  Health resources were already spread thin; may the staff find ways to cope with yet one more major obstacle.

I am grateful to be able to travel safely in Cameroon.  I came to N’gaoundéré yesterday for a meeting and am grateful for the welcome I received.  I have decided to stay through the weekend am very grateful to have been invited to a Thanksgiving dinner Saturday evening with some Americans, most of whom I don’t yet know.   

My heart is heavy that I cannot be with family and friends this Thanksgiving.

But I am grateful for internet connections that made it possible for me to talk with loved ones who are distant from me.

My heart is heavy that travel in the CAR continues to be difficult because of bandits along the road.

I am, however, very grateful to UN Peacekeeping Forces who provide escort services to small cars/buses and convoy protection for large trucks.  Waiting for the escort takes time and adds complications to travel, but those who make the effort arrive safely at their destination.

I am grateful that President Ndanga-Toué and other EELRCA church officials were able to travel to Garoua Boulai to meet with Thore Ekland, partner from Mission Afrika, Denmark.  I am grateful, too, that I could piggy-back on that meeting to talk about some of the work I am involved with. 

My heart is heavy that so many people in Garoua Boulai, the region, and CAR have experienced such trauma and heart wounds. 

I am grateful to be involved with the Bible Society’s Trauma Healing program as we begin to help people learn ways to recognize and begin to heal the wounds.  On Saturday, November 21, 13 people finished the Trauma Healing Training Seminar. (I know, there are only 11 participants in the photo, but two had to leave early because of a funeral – again sadness in the midst of joy.)  Another 17 students at the Bible School in Garoua Boulai will be completing the training soon.  These 30 people will be working together in January to begin Healing Groups within the Lutheran congregations in GB.  As they increase their confidence leading participatory learning, I hope (and believe) they will continue to lead Healing Groups to ease the hearts and hurts of some people in the area. 

I am grateful that the Regional Bishop of GB is very interested in Trauma Healing and will be working with us to continue implementation of this much-needed program.  I am grateful that the Lutheran World Federation workers in Meiganga are interested is exploring the possibility of using this Trauma Healing program with Central African refugees at the camp near there.  (I am meeting with someone on my way back to GB to see what is possible.) 

I am grateful for the large doses of sunshine that we currently have as the dry season is now in full swing.  I know the sun is hot, especially for those who work outside, but the mixture of sun and shadow is gorgeous and the light is full of hope.

My heart is heavy that so many don’t have enough food or basics to live.  It makes me sad how many turn to theft or extortion.  I know they think it is the only (or at least the easiest) way, but my heart bleeds because we cannot love our neighbors as ourselves and live in peace.

I am grateful that most of my “stuff” that was stolen is being replaced.  It is taking time and effort, but I am rebuilding what I had – with some upgrades! 

I am grateful for the friends – here and abroad – who call or send messages that keep us connected. 

On Saturday evening, I will be grateful for turkey, stuffing, gravy, and pumpkin pie! 

As I reread this entry, I see that there is much to make my heart grieve, but even more for which I am grateful.  May you be able to also find many reasons to be thankful.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Little Things

This past week or so has been pretty routine, so I am thinking about the little things in life.  Sometimes they make life difficult, but sometimes they provide pleasures and contentment that keep me going.  (You can decide which is which!)

The rainy season is ending.  I have talked before about the torrential rains that come in the last weeks.  Grass grows as you watch it (only a slight exaggeration).  I have found out that the lawnmower here can cut grass that is wet (something I was always warned not to do in the US).  You have to cut it when it is damp or wet since there are long periods when it is either raining or everything is wet.  I also found out that the mower will cut tall grass as long as it is not thick.  Look at the height of the grass in the photo and the other side of the path that was cut yesterday.  No problem!  (The view is from my house looking toward the Bible School pictured in the background.)

Cheap stuff is not worth buying if you think of the long-term and the consequences. When I got a new toilet last year, the plumber bought a cheap plastic seat (the only one available in GB).  Toilets and seats are not sold as a unit.  You can see from the picture that the seat was not quite the same shape as the bowl.  And, it is thin plastic.  With time, as you would expect, the mismatch and the weight of bodies (mostly mine) using it caused the plastic to crack. The first two cracks were small and in places that it didn’t matter.  The third, though, was a “cheek pincher”!  So, I made a black bandage.  I had the word out that I wanted a new one (and hopefully one that fit).  While I was in Yaoundé applying for a new passport, I bought a new solid seat that (almost) has the right shape.  Still, it is so solid and thick that it shouldn’t crack even with the slight mismatch.  Interesting colors, don’t you think?  (That was the only choice.  Now there are matching seats in ELCA houses in Yaoundé, Garoua Boulai, and Meiganga.) 

I am still using the borrowed computer that will go to Bouar when I get a new one.  It had Windows 8 which I don’t like.  A technician here told me that he could put a legal copy of 7 on it and I was happy.  After having installed 7 (and all the programs, too) twice, there are continuing problems.  Every day or so, I get a black, white, red, or blue screen that stops all work.  Fortunately, when I turn the computer off and restart it, all the work comes back.  The technician says it is some hidden format that makes the computer continue to look for Windows 8 features.  Sigh.  This week we are going back to 8 (which will mean re-reinstalling all the programs - again).  Big sigh.  Meanwhile I am saving everything twice – once to the hard drive and once to a disk – just in case.  (I have always been one to back things up, but not hourly…)

I am teaching two Trauma Healing Equipping seminars in GB.  Last year, I taught the lessons to the Bible School students in a Healing Group.  This year we are reviewing the lessons as I help them learn to teach in a participatory way – that is making the participants do most of the talking and work in the learning process.  This is not easy for these students as it is far outside of their learning experience.  We are, however, making progress.  (They have worked in pairs to plan and teach three 10-minute lessons.  Now they are all up to almost acceptable! Next week they will try teaching on their own. 

The second seminar is happening on five Saturdays in a row with Lutheran Church leaders in GB.  We have completed three.  The first week we were scheduled to start, we had to postpone because there were two local funerals that almost everyone in the class had to attend.  (These are the church leaders, after all.)  We have had a little trouble since then with absences or tardiness, but most are present most of the time.  All who come are actively involved and highly participative.  (So, how do Bible School students who don’t understand what it means to lead and actively participate get to be dynamic leaders like those in this Saturday class??)  It is a joy to work with them.  They ask perceptive questions, raise relevant points related to their work and life in GB, and strive to grasp information and methods presented.  I love teaching!  (That’s a big thing that has lots of little related aspects…)

I have a new, solid screen door!  No one can cut this screen (which is double the thickness of the one on the last door).  Even if someone did, s/he couldn’t get in.  No space between bars and a keyed lock (with no key left in it).  Now I can have ventilation in security!  And, people can know when I am home.  (By custom, people of the region will not knock on a shut door.  They assume the person is not home or, if there, resting and not wanting to be disturbed.)  

The Bible School Palm Oil Project (long-term project that will help make the Bible School more self-supporting) also grows some food crops to help nourish the students and teachers.  The yams were just harvested.  These are not yams like we get in the US.  They are huge! And, white inside.  Here are two of the three I got as my share.  (They would have given me more, but one lasts me a week!)  Ever seen this kind before??

I miss the music that was on my old computer.  (Fortunately, my sister found the back-up flash drives that I left in Philadelphia and I will get them next month when someone comes this way.  I am very grateful to have made the back-ups and that people are generous with their limited suitcase space to bring me replacement stuff.  That’s when I’ll get my new computer and camera, too.)  But, since I had little music, I tried out a couple of CDs I found here at the guest house in GB.  I don’t know who left them, but they are interesting!  Both are musicians from the Central African Republic.  One, Laurent Eze, made the CD (Ïn Blue Note”) himself (it seems from the poorer recording quality.)  I can’t find him in an internet search, but know he’s from CAR because of the Sango in which he sings some songs.  Some great keyboarding, too.  The other is Bibi Tanga and the Selenites (“40° of Sunshine” – that’s Centigrade – hot!).  The internet says he is a Central African, son of a diplomat, based in Paris.  Some songs are in Sango, some in French and some in English. 

The other CDs I have (Ricardo Arjona’s “Sin Danos a Terceros” and Julieta Venegas Ötra Cosa”) are from my friend Eduardo in Ecuador!  Yes, he sent them by DHL from South America to Cameroon – it only took a little more than a month!  Ricardo is from Guatemala and Julieta from Mexico.  So, I have world music!  And, certainly enjoy listening to it. 

I had a local tailor make me a blouse based on a model I had.  It fit the first time!  The blue and the embroidery are attractive, no?

So, what are the little things that you are thinking about these days?  What questions do you have about other little (or big) things in my life in Cameroon? 

Note:  I have not mentioned the situation in CAR because it is unchanged.  Bouar, Baboua, and Gallo are calm.  The roads in the west are passable if one goes with the UN escort.  Violence continues in Bangui and other towns in the central and northern parts of the country.  The elections were pushed back (again) from the 13th to the 27th of Dec.  They really want to have the first round this year (2015), but insecurity continues to be a huge issue.  Pray for peace.