Sunday, January 30, 2011

You are Back?

Yes, I am back.  One of the things I love about Cameroon is how people remember you.  Today I showed up at the Baptist Rest House in Bamenda after a long drive from Douala.  I stayed at the same Rest House for a week last June.  As soon as I arrived, the caretaker and cleaners immediately recognized me and said, "You are back?  Its been a long time!" 

Dr. Okwen picked me up from the airport in Douala last night and we stayed with his cousin for the night.  Before I went to bed last night I was reflecting on the last time I stayed at his cousin's house.  It was almost exactly five years ago and we were on our way to Kribi in the South Province for Peace Corps Volunteer/Counterpart In-Service Training.   It was the first time that I had really traveled in Cameroon and I was nervous about taking the bus from Bamenda and staying in bustling, big-city Douala.  During the bus ride Dr. Okwen and I each took a headphone earpiece and listened to my iPOD during most of the trip.  I think it was then that we discovered that we had very similar tastes in music and began sharing multiple albums during the two years that I worked with him as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Five years later, we are traveling together and enjoying my music but this time, in his own car and listening to my iPOD through his car speakers.  It was another reminder of how some things have changed in Cameroon, but how much has really stayed the same.  We are working together again, yet in a different capacity.  I too have changed and grown some, but I am back and it feels good. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Send-On

“Ah, but Sister Kate, we are not sending you off, we are sending you on to America so you can come back to us.”  Those were the words spoken to me as I left Bafut, Cameroon in November 2007 after serving there as a Peace Corps Health Volunteer for two years. How prophetic.  This Friday I am doing just that—I am returning to Cameroon.  I have spent the last 2.5 years taking classes for a doctoral degree in public health nutrition at Loma Linda University.  Last January I started the process of writing and submitting a grant to the NestlĂ© Foundation to develop and test an audio program to promote exclusive breastfeeding in Cameroon.  At the end of October the grant was accepted and two weeks ago the subject was officially accepted as my doctoral research topic.  The grant is for 18 months and I plan to return to the US in June of 2012.  While there I will be working with Dr. Okwen, my supervisor from my days as a Peace Corps Volunteer and other Cameroonian researchers and health workers in the Kumbo Health District.  Kumbo is in the same region as where I worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but a different city.  It is a much larger city, but further from Bamenda, the regional capitol and transportation center.  

When I left Cameroon in 2007 it was my goal to be able to return and do research.  To follow the Cameroonians advice to be sent on to America only to return later.  Little did I know how much that would actually entail.  The past few weeks I have felt overwhelmed with all that needs to be done in the next 18 months and my responsibilities.  Unlike the last time I left, it is not the unknown that I fear, but the known.  I know what it is like to live in Cameroon and the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical strength it requires.  Over the weekend I was plagued with the fear that all of it will be too much.  Doing research is hard.  Living in Cameroon is hard.  Doing research AND living in Cameroon seems unbearable.  But on Sunday I attended the symphony and while I watching the musicians it occurred to me that they were using their mind, body, and soul to make music.  And the music flowed by following a rhythm.  Yes, it is a lot to complete in 18 months, but I believe that once I find my rhythm and engage my mind, body, and soul, that has been cultivated the last 2.5 years in America, the music will flow in Cameroon.

But above all, we must learn our own weakness in order to awaken to a new order of action and of being-and experience God Himself accomplishing in us the things we find impossible.
We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity.  Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.
Thomas Merton