Sunday, March 27, 2011

Not Yet

I was sitting in the backseat of the Kumbo West District Medical Officer, Dr. Yota’s truck a couple of weeks ago listening to the conversation with his driver.  We were on our way to the health center in Kitikaium for a focus group discussion when we passed a signboard for the Government Bilingual High School.  “Ay-yah, these people are having a bilingual school?  Are they getting French teachers?” Dr. Yota asked.  “No, the teachers have not yet come,” the driver responded.  It was at that moment that I realized how often I hear the phrase, not yet.  The women for the focus group have not yet come, the electricity has not yet come back, the internet is not yet working, the taxi is not yet full of people, the food is not yet ready.  As I stop to think about it, the words “not yet” imply a waiting in expectation, hopefulness.  After hearing so many stories about the poorly functioning education system and the rift between the Anglophones and Francophones, I realized that if I was asked about the likelihood of a Francophone teacher coming to teach at a small village in the Northwest Region my answer would not be as hopeful as the driver’s.  I wonder, does growing up in a country where not yet is part of daily life make Cameroonians inherently more patient people? 

My mom took this picture in Cameroon last June.  Many taxi bumpers have similar hopeful sayings.  We both smiled when we walked past this man  as we realized he was certainly being very patient.

I know that while I am here I am forced to become a more patient person as I often have no other choice but to wait for the women to come, the taxi to fill, the electricity to come back, the internet to work, the food to be prepared.  Usually I do not mind waiting except when I get very hungry or have to use the toilet.  Regarding the latter, I try to hold out as long as I can, but when things get desperate and have to ask someone where the toilet is, I usually get the question, “Do you want to piss or shit?” as this determines which latrine I can use.  I am still practicing the art of answering questions about my bodily functions in public. 

On a deeper level, I have been pondering what does not yet mean for me spiritually.  The Princeton Theologian Gerhard Vos taught that the Kingdom of God is “already, but not yet here”  This means that we see glimpses of the Kingdom of God around us through miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit, but we also still have poverty, war, sickness, and death because the Kingdom of God has not yet fully come.   However, unlike simply waiting for the women to come or the taxi to fill with an acceptance that there is nothing else to do but wait, I can co-work with the Holy Spirit to bring forth the Kingdom.  So now the question for me is how do I bring forth the Kingdom in my work here?  After conducting multiple key informant interviews and focus group discussions, it appears that my outcome variable for my research will change.  Originally, it was going to be intention for women to exclusively breastfeed.  However, based on our interviews and discussions it appears that almost all of the women have the intention to exclusively breastfeed for six months and we would not see much change because of our intervention.  I certainly have seen glimpses of God at work through and around me, but we have not yet found an alternative outcome variable.  This week we will begin analyzing all of our qualitative data and I am hopeful that we will find another way to further the Kingdom of God in this place. 

Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life
Simone Weil

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mt. Cameroon 2011

I like doing things a second time. I always have. I remember as a child on the rare occasion that we rented a VCR and a movie, I always wanted to rent a Haley Mills movie even though there were so many other choices. I think it comes from wanting to know what to expect. So I guess it isn't a surprise that I have returned to live in Cameroon a second time or that I recently hiked Mt. Cameroon a second time. The first time I hiked Mt. Cameroon was in 2007 with other Peace Corps Volunteers. This time I hiked it with Shirin and her boyfriend, Shaun. I met Shirin in 2007 when we were both working in Bafut. She has also returned to work in Cameroon for a few months and is based in Bamenda. At 4090 meters, Mt. Cameroon is the tallest peak in West Africa. It is a volcanic mountain which last erupted in 2000 and located next to Buea in the Southwest Region. Hiking Mt. Cameroon was one of my favorite experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer because of the physical challenge and majestic views. I still remember when I was preparing for my last trip, Eunice said to me, "Sister, how are you preparing your mind for that mountain?" Well, thankfully with the aid of four porters and a guide I didn't have to do too much preparation. Below are some of the pictures from our three-day trek. More pictures can be found at:

View of Buea from the base of Mt. Cameroon
Starting the ascent from Upper Farms

Our first resting place: Hut One
Out of the forest and into the savannah
Hiking above the clouds
Our dinner of rice and stew the first night
The windy summit!
Hilary, one of our porters, with Buea in the background
View from the summit
The craters from the 1922 and 1999 eruption
Another crater
Relaxing at the beach at Limbe
Fish from down beach in Limbe
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Monday, March 7, 2011

You are Making Sport?

The hills of Kumbo
Perhaps nothing exemplifies my life here better than my morning runs.  While running I am invariably asked the question, “You are making sport?” This phrase demonstrates how Pidgin English is a conglomeration of French and English as it comes from the French phrase, faire du sport and how Cameroonians make small talk by stating the obvious.  Thankfully, I have gotten used to this way of greeting and the sarcastic side of me no longer wants to yell back, “No I’m not making anything, I’m running!” Instead, I usually respond with, “I de try-oh!”   My typical route is out- and –back, usually lasting for an hour.  I meander through narrow paths alongside people’s mudbrick homes and farms.  The narrow path opens to a wide road that I follow up and down hills, through forests of eucalyptus and conifer trees, cross over streams, pass many goats, and the occasional cows.  I have moments of complete solitude and feel like I could be running in Ute Valley Park in Colorado Springs or Hulda Crooks in Loma Linda.  And then the silence is punctuated with repeated shouts of “White man!” or “Kimba” and transported back to Cameroon.  Kimba is the Lamso (the local dialect) word for white man.  These words usually come from small children as they are walking the long distances to school or outside their houses scrubbing pots and dishes from the previous night’s meal.  The only way to stop the incessant shouting is to yell back, “Good morning!” or “Black man!”  The latter tends to silence them faster as they sit in a state of shock from my unexpected response.  I pass older women, walking with backs hunched over and wrinkled faces after spending years planting and harvesting by hand, slowly making their way to their farm.  Occasionally they stop, look up at me, and clap their hands.  I greet them with a quick, “Ashia!” as I know the work I have to do in the coming day is nothing in comparison to what they will accomplish in their daily striving to feed their children and grandchildren.  Young men on motorcycles quickly pass me honking their horns warning me to move out of the way quickly.  Other people just stop and stare and usually a quick “Eranewa” (Lamso for good morning) either causes them to laugh or leaves them pondering at what I just said as I poorly attempt to speak the local dialect. 

As I am greeting everyone I pass, dodging motorcycles, goats, cows, and chickens I gaze at the hills around me and the path before me.  In the last week rain has fallen transforming the dusty trails to soft dirt.  Where I started running here a month ago I used to return to my house with ankles completely brown from the dust.  Now they are speckled with mud.  I reflect that in the same amount of time the loneliness I felt a month ago has been transformed to growing companionship from new friendships.  As I am running my mind drifts to various topics.  I think about my research and offer a quick prayer of thanks that we are moving forward and a prayer for discernment to know how to balance the needs of the community, the funder, my research assistants, and my doctoral committee.  I think about how grateful I am to have the health and the ability to be in this place, at this moment, living once again in Cameroon.  I think about my previous running partners, both physical and spiritual, that have accompanied me on runs in different parts of the world, and know that their strength is still with me even though not physically present right now.  I think about the new relationships I am forming here in Kumbo.  Such as with Doris, my housecleaner.  Her quick friendship, big smile, funny statements, and help in my house sometimes remind me so much of Eunice it brings tears to my eyes.  I think about how hard it will be to leave this place in seventeen months and pray that I may find the balance between my fear of the pain of separation in the future and my calling to be open and present in the here and now.

One of the favorite words in the Rule (Of St. Benedict) is “run”.  St. Benedict tells me to run to Christ.  If I stop for a moment and consider what is being asked of me here, what is involved in the act of running, I think of how when I run I place first one foot and then the other on the ground, and let go of my balance for a second and then immediately recover it again.  This is risky, this matter of running.  By daring to lose my balance, I keep it.

Esther De Wall, Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality