Friday, December 23, 2011

I Am The Happiest of Happies

One of the things I enjoy most about living in Cameroon is the gratitude of the Cameroonians.  Every month I give my housekeeper, Doris, approximately $10 for coming once a week to scrub my floors; destroy wasps nests and spiderwebs; and wash my sheets, towels, and windows.  Each time I give her the money a bright smile quickly spreads across her face and she thanks me profusely as she turns around with an extra bounce in her step.  It always brings me joy to see her and other Cameroonian's gratitude and thus I was looking forward to Christmas and the opportunity to give gifts.   I've spent the last few days celebrating Christmas early with my friends who live around or in Bamenda. 

One of my first Christmas celebrations was with Franklin and his siblings.  After a discussion on the African view of metaphysics, I gave him a tie that my mom sent and his sisters fabric so they could sew their Christmas dresses.  

My next Christmas celebration was with Eunice's children and Peter. I bought matching suits for Lord and Babila.  I'm pretty sure the suits came from China, so they aren't the highest quality, but they seemed quite proud of their new threads.

Lord in his new suit.
Peter dressing Babila.  Unfortunately the person in China who sewed the clothes forgot to burst the holes, so he couldn't button the suit.  
Babila in his unbuttonable suit

I bought Kate a new dress for Christmas day.  In a blink of an eye she tore off her old clothes and put on her new dress.  My mom also sent her a doll and based on the input from Lord, she named her Courage.  She also received glow-in-the dark glasses which didn't quite fit, but were fun for the moment.

After opening the gifts we went to a nearby restaurant for dinner.  Peter kept telling me that he is the happiest of happies on this day and so grateful not only for the gifts, but also the support throughout the year.

I spent my very first Christmas in Cameroon with Eunice, Peter, Lord, and Babila, shortly before this picture was taken in 2005.  I still remember that day.  I had only been in Bafut for a few weeks and not wanting to spend Christmas by myself I made a cake and brought it to her house.  She promptly invited me inside and offered me food and made me feel apart of her family even though at that time we had only knew each other for a few weeks.  How I wish she could've been there the other night for her to see how handsome and beautiful her children are and to celebrate another Christmas in Cameroon with her.  But I am also the happiest of happies that I can still share and see her spirit in her children.

Lord Jesus Christ, your world awaits you. 
In the longing of the persecuted for justice;
In the longing of the poor for prosperity;
In the longing of the privileged for riches greater than wealth;
In the longing of our hearts for a better life;
And in the song of your Church, expectation is ever present. 
O come, Lord, desire behind our greatest needs.
O come, Lord, liberator of humanity. 
O come, Lord, O come, Immanuel.
An Advent Prayer 

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

You Be Like Some Kind Pioneer

After three years of living in Cameroon I still smile when I hear Cameroonian's descriptions or phrases and in the past few weeks I've heard some good ones.  Last week we finished our last listening session with the control group.  Before the participants filled out the post-tests one of the nurses, Margaret, was explaining to the participants in Pidgin the importance of filling out the form as a way to prove that the program is effective.  In her discourse she told them, "You be like some kind pioneer".   Now in Public Health terms what we are doing is pilot-testing the program, but I think I like pioneer-testing better.  Perhaps because sometimes I feel like I'm a pioneer on the American frontier as I climb a ladder to reach the loft in my cottage, wash my clothes by hand, bake bread from scratch, throw my trash into a hole in the ground, use a kerosene lamp when the electricity goes out, and eat food that is grown on land around me.  

Our "Pioneers" struggling to complete the post-test.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking with my usual motorcycle driver about taking a trip to Ndu, a village about an hour away.  He said to me, "Kate do you want a casket?"  Now, when you are contemplating a trip by motorcycle on perilous roads, the word casket is not really something you want to hear.  I looked at him perplexed and asked, "A casket?"  "Yes," he said, "For your head."  And then I realized its a casket, not a helmet, and thought that word too is probably a better description of a hard piece of plastic that entombs your head.

Other great phrases of recent include, "Things are not working inside your head" when referring to an HIV-positive person who refuses to take his antiretroviral drugs; "We will send our eyes inside that book" when I gave my friend a magazine I finished reading; "When your brain falls on my son" meaning when you think of my son who is struggling; and "I am hungry to see you" from a friend who I have not seen for a few days.

In the last week I have changed my schedule and planning on returning to the States in February.  Since  making that decision I've been reminding myself of all of the phrases I say here that are really not appropriate in the States.  For example, when meeting someone far out on the running trail its polite to just wave, not stop and ask, "How you sleep?"  Every answer to a question should not begin with "No" especially when the correct answer is actually "Yes".  The phrase "You are welcome"  should come after someone says "Thank you" and doesn't need to be repeated every five minutes or randomly inserted into the middle of a conversation.  I need to stop clicking my tongue to demonstrate disgust and "Waay, ashia" is not an appropriate response not matter how versatile it is here.  If I say that "I am coming" I have to mean that I will be there soon, instead of implying that I've thought about perhaps leaving my house and hope to get there in an hour, two, or even the next day.  And if I say "Tomorrow" I have to really mean the next day, not just some time in the near future.  I cannot tell someone to "Shii down fo that side" when I want them to take a seat nor can I ask "You come out for which side?" when I want to know from where they come.  Perhaps hardest of all will be to stop stating the obvious. "You are there", "You have come", "You are in the market", "You are making sport",  or "You are washing" aren't conversation starters in America but an opening for sarcastic jokes.  Although I realize there are many things I say here that don't translate in America, I do hope I can pioneer some words and phrases as many of them better describe life or show concern for the other person.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thank We Papa God

Cameroonians don't celebrate Thanksgiving Day, they celebrate Thanksgiving Months. Throughout the months of September, October, and November the churches assign each family a "Thanksgiving Sunday" in which they are supposed to bring money and crops from their farm to church. I am apart of many different Cameroon "families", but there is one I am particularly close to in Kumbo. Last Sunday it was their Thanksgiving Mass and as the daughter I was expected to attend. It began with parading and dancing down the aisle of the church, like these women:

Then standing with my mother and siblings and receiving gifts from people while attempting to dance to the music. Of course, seeing the white girl attempting to move her hips to the music provided comic relief to all.

After the gifts of money came the gifts of food. In bags and baskets. On top of women's heads. No wonder people laugh at me. These people can dance while carrying 50 lbs of corn kernels on their heads. I can't dance even without carrying anything on my head.

From the church we went to the family compound where everyone enjoyed fufu corn and njamajama and palm wine. After eating, more dancing and singing, then photographs.

Last Thursday I also celebrated American Thanksgiving with a few Americans who live in another village an hour away. We also sang, reflected on our blessings, and ate traditional food. After I left the occasion on Sunday I was thinking that although the foods, the history behind the celebrations, and the people were very different, the reasons for coming together for American and Cameroonian Thanksgiving were very much the same. And truly what a blessing it is to share and be together. Even if it requires me dancing.

Gratitude, therefore, takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to a new wonder and to praise the goodness of God.

Thomas Merton

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

They Call Me...

After entering data from over 100 people who have participated in our listening sessions so far I have come across all kinds of different Cameroonian names.  Currently my favorites are Coryola (which I think comes from the most common car model here), Nervis, Honesty, and Godlove.  Typically Cameroonians have three names: a tribal name, Christian name, and family name. Most of our participants are from the Banso tribe and a typical Banso name ends in “nyuy”, meaning God, so we have Kerinyuys, Fomonyuys, Berinyuys, Dzelimonyuys, Vernyuys, Shenyuys, Kinyuys, Lernyuys, and Winkinyuys to name just a few.  In addition to pronouncing the names, matching the names from their recruitment form the nurses filled out at the hospital with the names participants put on their pre test and attendance list has proved puzzling.  Participants usually write down two names of their three names, but they aren’t always the same two names or in the same order.

Although this has provided an unexpected challenge, there also have been many rewards recently.  One of the benefits of doing research with pregnant women is the opportunity to name babies.  Last Wednesday I visited one of the health centers to arrange with the nurse for the next day’s listening session.  One of our participants had just delivered a baby boy that morning and told me to come and give the baby a name.  I immediately knew the name had to be from my family and be simple, so I and they could pronounce it, and suggested, Dale, after my father.  The name was well received and the next day the parents proudly took Baby Dale home after our third listening session.

Baby Dale

Nam Kiwanuka in the last issue of BBC’s Focus on Africa magazine also writes about African names.  She says that all across the continent of Africa names are chosen in various ways.  Some are chosen to reflect birth order, to keep their indigenous language alive and connect to their ancestors, the parents’ hope for their child, like Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, or the complexity of life.  

Indeed, since being here I am often reminded of the complexity of life and unanticipated challenges.  But sometimes there are real moments of grace and simplicity, like when I received my Banso name of Fomonyuy, meaning God's gift, and naming a child after my father to demonstrate my connection to and respect for him.

Where God has given you God's intimate name, you also have been given your own name.  It takes awhile; it takes some listening, some silence, some suffering.  It takes some waiting, desiring; it takes some hoping.  But we finally discover that place where we know who we are.  

Richard Rohr

Monday, November 7, 2011

Feast of the Ram

 "Crossroads of Africa" is a nickname often ascribed to Cameroon.  During my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer I had the privilege to learn a little about some the 300 different ethnic groups scattered throughout this country the size of California.  Since moving to Kumbo I have seen how Cameroon is also a religious crossroads.  Right next to my house is a Baptist Church.  Across the street is a Mosque.  Across the street from that is a Presbyterian Church.  Next to that is a Catholic Church.  Indeed, I have an audible reminder of the crossroads when I hear both the call to prayer and call to mass in the early morning hours. What continues to amaze me is despite all of the language, traditional, religious, and colonial differences in Cameroon people here coexist peacefully.  Yes, there is an undercurrent of angst, but that is directed much more towards the government then at a neighbor who worships differently or speaks differently. Tolerance and hospitality is definitely a strength of the Cameroon people.   

Yesterday was the Muslim celebration of the Feast of the Ram. I have never lived amongst Muslims and it was fascinating for me to watch thousands of Muslims gather and watch them pray.    

There is a large field in Kumbo between the Mosque and the Presbyterian Church where the Muslims gathered to celebrate the Feast of the Ram.  In this picture the Mosque is right behind from where I am standing and the the Presbyterian Church is that little white building on the left.  

This is the Protocol Officer for the day.  He explained to me the five pillars of Islam and the Feast of the Ram.  He told me that the Feast of the Ram is to honor the day when Abraham, by faith, took his son to slaughter.  When God saw his wiliness to sacrifice his only son he provided a ram instead.  The Protocol Officer told me that the Muslims gather at this field if they cannot go to Mecca to pray and later will slaughter a ram.  It was interesting to hear his explanation of Islam being about faith and love for one another.

 I have always admired about the Muslims is how they dress. It is usually easy to tell who is and who is not Muslim in Kumbo simply by their choice of clothing.  I have often wanted to take pictures of them, but either don't have my camera or seems in appropriate.  Fortunately I had my camera with me yesterday and when the children saw it they quickly volunteered to be  to be my Muslim models.  


This young girl stayed still long enough for me to capture the tattoo on hand.
The women beginning to gather with their prayer mats, about to pray.  The men were on one side of the field and the women on the other.

We are not human beings in search of a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings in search of a human experience.
   Pierre Teilhard de Chardin