Sunday, February 27, 2011

Na woman where don give bobbee

 I’ve heard that Pidgin phase a lot this past week.  We started interviewing different people in the community to find out what their current beliefs and practices are surrounding breastfeeding.  Nancy came up from Bamenda and she interviewed four people in Pidgin English on Friday.  I’m finding that the process of recruiting the interviewees has been just as interesting as their answers to our questions.  One of the beautiful things about interviewing people in Cameroon is almost everyone is willing and has the time to talk to you.  They find it quite strange that we ask them to sign a consent form prior to the interview.  One man insisted that he write his telephone number on the form as an additional way to identify him, even though the whole point of the consent form is to explain that we will do our best to protect their anonymity.  Later, Nancy and I were walking towards the Junction, as it called, looking for a man to interview.   We saw a Muslim man and thought he would be a good candidate.  Nancy approached him and asked if he had some time to answer some questions.  He looked at me and said, “Sure, if she’ll be my wife!”  I looked at Nancy and said, “Oh no, I’m willing to make sacrifices for this project, but I won’t go that far!”  Then with a big grin that revealed his missing two front teeth, he said, “But I have most of my teeth!” 

Regardless of the forays of recruiting interviewees, we are starting to collect some interesting information surrounding breastfeeding, such as the belief that a breastfeeding mother cannot have sex because it will spoil the milk for the child and that if a pregnant woman breastfeeds her child the child will get “runny stomach” (diarrhea).  Adhering to the first belief is problematic because the men will not abstain from sex for that long and they usually will have sex with other women during this time.  We have four more key informant interviews scheduled for this week and two focus group discussions, including one with Muslim men which I think will be particularly interesting. Too my surprise all of this is happening much faster than I expected and anticipate that we will begin our second phase by the beginning/middle of April. 

With all of these discussions about breastfeeding and childcare this past week I am reminded again of the silent strength and resilience of Cameroonian women. I watch Franklin’s mother hoe her farm by hand and admire her fortitude and grace of this fifty-something woman.  She left her abusive husband years ago and has raised her six children by herself in addition to her granddaughter and 2 nieces and nephew.  I also am in awe of Doris, my housecleaner, who cheerfully comes to my house every Monday and sings while she washes my concrete floor by hand.  She works full time at the LAP center, cooking and cleaning all day, before returning to her mud brick house where she is also raising her six children by herself.  My hope and prayer is that I can continue to understand what life is like for these women so that we develop an audio program that truly is beneficial and relevant.

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.  I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
Oriah, The Invitation

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Finding the Rhythm

There is a rhythm to life.  I know this. That is partly where the name of my blog came from.  But the rhythm in Cameroon has a different cadence than in America.  I like forming a rhythm to my life by following a daily routine.  I try to go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time, eat the same thing for breakfast each morning—oatmeal with bananas and peanut butter (of course!).  After trying to balance work, school, and personal obligations I have spent years planning each day so I use my time as efficiently as possible.  And then I return to Cameroon.  A place where there is always enough time and efficiency isn’t a high priority.  I know this, yet often the American beat inside me clashes with the Cameroon beat surrounding me.  Last week I was trying to arrive in Bafut by 10 am for the start of Youth Day.  I knew that I would have to be at the taxi park by 9 am to wait for 6 other people to arrive and fill the circa 1990 Toyota Corolla for the 30 minute drive to Bafut.  I left the place where I was staying, looking at my watch while walking down the road, and trying to determine how much time I had to find a place and eat breakfast.  As I was walking intently down the road when a man yells at me, “You pass and do not greet?”  Ah yes, how quickly I forget the obligation to greet every person on the road with a “Good morning-oh” or “How for you?” or “You sleep fine?” of just simply, “Ahia” when I am worried about keeping time. 

And I know that this will not be the only time I experience the syncopation of rhythms. This past week we had our first meeting with all of the local research staff.  It was quite productive, and I am so thankful to be surrounded by competent, supportive people.  Following the meeting I had to print of a 119 page document on Protection of Human Subject Participants and make three photocopies.  Because industrial-sized printer and copiers are not available this took over five hours to complete.  The next day I arranged with the District Medical Officer, Dr. Yota, to plan for our four focus-group discussions.  We determined where the focus group discussions would be and who would be invited and he then drafted a letter to the area health clinics.  After the letter was completed he guaranteed me that I would have the 24 women and 24 men I need for this phase of the study.  Both of these events reminded me that some things are a lot harder here and some things are a lot easier than in America.  I know that to print and make photocopies in America would take 15 minutes, yet trying to recruit and plan for four focus group discussion would take much longer then my 30 minute discussion with Dr. Yota. 

Local Research Team: Ghislane, Hope, Marianna, Nancy, Dr. Fonteh, and myself.  Not pictured: The Men, Dr. Okwen and Dr Yota

Since arriving in Kumbo many Cameroonians have said to me, “But this is not like in America.  In America do you have this much dust?  Do you have these earth roads? Do you have electricity failures?”  And I tell them no, we do not, but we also don’t have time or solidarity with our neighbors.  Yesterday I was working on updating the protocol for our study and the electricity went out and the internet went down.  With that occurrence I decided there wasn’t anything for me to do in the house and I went to visit Franklin’s family.  Not long after I arrived I was given a huge plate full of njamajama and asked to remove the stems.  After I finished that task I sifted the corn, added it to the boiling water, and started stirring over the open fire in the outdoor kitchen to make fufu corn.  When I woke up that day I had no intention of learning how to make the local staple food, I wanted to finish writing the protocol, but there I was, desteeming, pounding, stirring, and cooking much to the delight of Franklin’s mother and sister.  And its moments like that, moments that happen both unexpectedly and expectedly like watching the sun rise from my loft window, or the sun set from my kitchen window while preparing dinner, or taking the first bite of the sweet and juicy pineapple, where I experience sheer contentment of being here.  Thus the task of coordinating American and Cameroon rhythms continues, but I’m thankful for the moments of grace that propel me onwards.  

   Don’t we often look at the many events of our lives as big or small interruptions, interrupting many of our plans, projects, and life schemes?  But what if our interruptions are in fact our opportunities, if they are challenges to an inner response by which growth takes place and through which we come to the fullness of being?
Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

Monday, February 14, 2011

Family, Foufou, Fowl, and Fainting

In addition to Youth Day, last week also had other adventures and laughter.  Last Sunday I visited my friend Franklin's family.  I met Franklin when I was in Bafut and now he is preparing to enter seminary.  Every year I give him a little bit of money to help with his school fees.  His family lives just behind my house in Kumbo.  When I met his mother she kept repeating, "You are welcome! You are welcome!" and "You are there!"  I wasn't expecting to be so well received.  She thanked me for the support I'm giving to Franklin and said that I should consider her my African mother.  She has such a beautiful smile and excitement to her voice that I'm honored she would consider me to be another daughter.

Franklin's brother, mother, and two cousins
After the exchange of greetings multiple times, she served me the Northwest specialty of foufou and pumpkin leaf.
Eating foufou and pumpkin leaf with my hands
And then I was quite surprised when Franklin's mother brought me a fowl!  Considering all the work that goes into raising a fowl this was quite the gift.  And of course ironic since I'm vegetarian.  After she gave me the fowl she insisted that I hold it and take a picture.

My fowl.  Haven't thought of a good name for it yet.
The other adventure of the week was visiting a rural primary health center.  My house is located on the compound of the Life Abundant Primary health care (LAP) training center that is operated by the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Board.  Each day a nurse goes out to visit one of the rural primary health centers to provide vaccinations and check on the trained birth attendants and health promotors.  I asked to go along on one of these visits and Wednesday I went with Nurse Winfred and Driver Joe to Kouffassam.  This is one of the closer health centers to Kumbo and it took about 2.5 hours to get there because our Land Rover had car problems and we had to come back to the LAP center and change vehicles.  We finally got there at about 10:30.  When we got there kids were playing in the field nearby.  I don't think any of them had seen a white girl before because as I approached them they all started screaming and running away.  Some finally were brave enough to touch me and then others joined in and it became a game to touch the white girl and then run away.  After that fun, I accompanied Winfred in seeing patients.  The first was a mother who wanted her 2 week old son circumsized.  We were in a delivery room like the one below and I was trying to soothe the crying child when I started feeling hot.  The next thing I knew I woke up and on a cot in a different room. I had fainted!  I was quite embarrassed by this as I came to assist and then had to be the one assisted.
Maternity room with trained health promoter

But Joe the Driver held my hand as I woke up and was very understanding and told me that it happened because "I wasn't used to" and "Such things don't happen in America."  I appreciated his sympathy and a little later managed to give my Pidgin nutrition talk to the mothers who brought their children for vaccinations.  Unfortunately because of the confusion with the health center staff, there were no vaccinations available that day and the white girl attempting to speak Pidgin was the only thing they received after a very long walk to the health center.  Too bad I didn't have my fowl to also offer them.     

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Youth Day 2011

Cameroon has two major political holidays.  The biggest is National Independence Day on the 20th of May and the second is Reunification Day on the 11th of February.  The day is supposed to commemorate when the two Cameroons, the area in the Northwest that opted to join Nigeria after a UN-sponsored referendum and the rest of Cameroon, formed a centralized United Republic of Cameroon.  This unification was hotly contested by the citizens in the Northwest Region who believe that because of linguistic and cultural differences a true and fair union is not possible and they have become second-class citizens.  In an effort to prevent political dissension the 11th of February has been reinvented to Youth Day and very little is mentioned about unification.  

On Youth Day all of the school children gather in various fields and stadiums across the country and march in their school uniforms past a panel of judges.  The judges determine which school’s children march and look the best.  After the march pass, the children have races and engage in traditional dances.  It’s a big day for the children as they practice for days their marching, songs, and dances before the actual day.  On the day of the event, they wake up very early to wash their uniform and look as neat as possible, which is not easy at this time of year as everywhere is covered with thick, red dust which worsens with each harmattan wind blowing through in the afternoon.     

This past Tuesday I decided that the best place to spend Youth Day would be in Bafut.  This was not an easy decision because transportation is unreliable and the roads to get from Kumbo to Bafut are terrible.  Going to Bafut for Youth Day would require me to leave Thursday afternoon for Bamenda, stay the night there, go to Bafut on Friday, return to Bamenda  Friday night, and come back to Kumbo on Saturday.   But I knew Eunice’s children would be marching in Bafut and like a true auntie, I braved the journey to see Lord, Babila, and Kate.  I also figured it would be a good opportunity to see everyone in Bafut again and tell them that I am now working in Kumbo.  Once I was there and saw the children proudly march past and then spend the afternoon with them I knew it was well worth the trip. 

Lord, Kate, and Babila before the March Pass

Kate holding the sign board for the Pre Nursery Class at Sacred Heart Preschool and Primary School.  I have no idea why the kids are wearing crowns made out of construction paper on their heads.

Babila in the middle, marching past

Kate playing with me after her march finished

All of that marching and playing makes Kate very tired and she fell asleep in my arms

This was from Youth Day in 2006 when Babila held the sign board for the Pre-Nursery Class.  Its been neat to go back to Bafut and see how the children have grown and changed after five years. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

It all works out, just not the way you think it will

When I was in Cameroon before I adopted this mantra. Things just seem to work out in Cameroon, but never the way you think it will. Shortly after arriving last week I was repeating this to myself all over again. From passing a large overturned truck that completely blocked the road from Douala to Bamenda, arranging for my bag that didn't arrive with me to come to Bamenda with one of Dr. Okwen's cousin's friends, meeting my new colleagues, and moving to my house in Kumbo, things just work out. Many times better then I expected. Its a constant reminder to Nyabo, let go, and trust that everthing will unfold at the right time.

I spent the first few days in Bamenda, the regional capitol, seeing friends, buying a phone, setting up bank accounts, waiting for my bank to arrive, and meeting my colleagues from Health Development Consultancy Services (HEDECS). On Friday morning I left for Kumbo where I will be working. Kumbo is about a 3 hour drive from Bamenda, mostly on an unpaved, dusty road. Kumbo is much larger then Mambu-Bafut, where I worked as Peace Corps Volunteer, so it feels quite different. It is at a higher elevation so its colder, in fact my house has a fire place that I need at night to stay warm! I'm looking forward to exploring more of the area. Below are a few "snaps" from the past week.

This is a picture of Mariana and Nancy from HEDECS.  Both are hard working, hospitable women.  Nancy reminds me of the main character from the books, "The Ladies No 1 Detective Agency"

This is Dr. Okwen and I standing next to my house in Kumbo

This is the living room of my house.  The ladder on the left goes up to a loft area.  The door on the left goes to my bedroom.

This is my kitchen. Bright and spacious!

I see hope as an attitude where everything stays open before me. Not that I don't think of my future in those moments, but I think of it in an entirely different way. Daring to stay open to whatever will come to me today, tomorrow, two months from now or a year from now--that is hope. To go fearlessly into things without knowing how they'll turn out, to keep going, even when something doesn't work the first time, to have trust in whatever you're doing--that is living with hope. 
Henri Nouwen, Open Hands
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