After months of absence, I visited the Central African Republic with a team from the ELCA: Rev. Dr. Andrea Walker, Area Program Director; Dr. Rebecca Duerst, Director of Diakonia; Anne Langdji, Regional Representative (who lives in Chicago – the first two came from Chicago. The main goal of the visit was to visit the health programs in Bohong and Gallo and consult with church leaders. I came along to help interpret and advance some of my other work.
We arrived in the country after 45 minutes with passport formalities. We came with a UN escort. (Road security is better than it has been for a long time, but travelers still move with care and with an escort whenever possible.) Here is a picture of a couple of the scads of trucks weighting for the escort to start. Notice that the truck brings its own shade where passengers and drivers wait. We jumped in after the UN truck (so we could move more quickly, but still with safety).
We traveled straight to Bouar arriving about 1:30 p.m. We did stop briefly, however Baboua however where we saw several people we knew at the market (by chance!) and Dr. Yindjara Antoinette at the seminary (along with others we work with.)
Since they we have talked to many church leaders Wednesday and visited Gallo the next day to talk about the Primary Health Care Program and the Emmanuel Health Center. The girl with umbrella and baby on her back was waiting outside the clinic. (I did ask – it’s not her baby but her sisters! Girls do start young in CAR, but not this young!) Pictured here are L-R, me, Catherine, Rebecca, Andrea and Anne. (We’ve been travelling together long enough to be on first name basis!)
Among meetings we shopped in to visit the Well-Baby Clinic where every Thursday they weight and measure babies (to check for malnutrition, especially) and vaccinate babies up to 11 months and their mothers.
We also visited Chez Marthe and Marie (CMM), the women’s center and had the opportunity to observe part of a sewing class taught by Safa Abel. The machines are rented for three months from people around Bouar. What a great way to resolve the problem of not having their own machines. They all work with a treadle so they don’t need electricity. Two members of the group ordered a skirt and an outfit to be made.
Along the road from Gallo to Bouar, we stopped to buy mushrooms – this is the start of the rainy season when they are plentiful. Anne insists that these are the best you could ever taste. Notice that they are in her hat since we had no bag. Catherine got to hold them (and pick out termites since they grow in termite nests and a few get mixed in!)
Heavy rains are very hard on road here. This picture shows the one that runs inside CMM. Notice that center workers are filling it in, first with large stone and then dirt to level it off. (Maybe now that there is a new government, maybe they will start to do the same with the myriad of unpaved roads in the country! Hope springs eternal.)
Today the group went to Bohong with several Central Africans to see the health center there and to visit some of the humanitarian work sponsored by LWF (Lutheran World Federation) and LDR (Lutheran Disaster Response). I stayed in Bouar to get other work done – including this blog! The old market in Bouar was razed last year and a temporary new one set up across from EEL-RCA headquarters. This was intentional so that the market could be rebuilt. It is not yet open, but look at one of the new buildings.
Central African hospitality is generous. Naabeau Catherine fed us the first day. Since they we have been hosted by Chez Marthe and Marie, Ngare Floribert and his wife Flor, both health centers, and the president. We have been welcomed with open arms in so many ways. It is a joy to be here.
Tomorrow we have more meetings with church leaders and dinner at the President’s house. We head back to Garoua Boulai Sunday. I will stay there, of course, and Andrea, Rebecca, and Anne will continue to Yaoundé (and Chicago for 2!) the next day.
Watch this space… I hope to be able to come back to CAR next week with Willie Langdji and a couple of other people.