Sunday, October 16, 2011


Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are, quite naturally, impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages; we are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stage of instability...and that it may take a very long time.. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete… 

I just read those words by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin from his book The Making of a Mind: Letters from a Soldier-Priest and thought they adequately summarize how I've been feeling lately.  Last week's election has put us slightly behind our project timeline and with that arises feelings of instability and concern.  Although the day of the election everything was calm, it is not expected that it will be when the election results are announced on October 24th.  I am in Bamenda this week and the current plan is that we will record the audio program while I'm here and then I'll return to Kumbo on October 22nd before the election results are announced. I'm hoping that when I return we will begin testing the audio program and there will not be any riots that will prevent our participants from traveling to the listening sessions and we will get back on schedule.  

Then I worry that even if we have a well recorded audio program our participants won't return for all of the listening sessions and we won't be able to follow up to find out if the audio program resulted in any behavior change.  We have a plan in place, but its based on the assumption that the participants will return at the same time once a week for four weeks.  A Western concept that I'm not completely sure will translate to the Cameroonian context.

 I know that it will work out because it always does, but it seems harder to trust in the midst of this uncertainty.  Maybe because there were months where we were on schedule and I felt like I was doing a good job of keeping everything on track.  I'm being reminded of how hard it is for me to trust God when there is so little I can control.  How easily I move from a place of strength to a place of doubt and instability.  How easily I fear that all of this is too much.  How I really can not do this on my own. How I'm not really as strong, trusting, or faithful as I thought I was.  How I would like to skip this intermediate stage of waiting for the unknown, the something new to arise.  

View of Bamenda.  Taken while waiting for the something new to arise.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Cameroon Presidential Elections

It hasn't been a quiet week in Kumbo.  Instead of Land Cruisers operated by NGOs and Mission organizations, Land Cruisers with pictures of the current President Paul Biya have been blowing past me as I weave my way through the streets of Kumbo.  Tomorrow is election day and campaigning officially began two weeks ago. Since then pictures of Paul announcing that he is the People's Choice have been showing up on billboards, t-shirts, and the local corner stores.  There are 22 candidates that are also in the race, but I've heard little and seen less of them.  I have seen an occasional flag and women wearing green cowboy hats represeting John Fri Ndu, the veteran opposition leader of the Social Democratic Front party.

President Paul Biya has been in power as long as I've been alive.  In 2008 a Constitutional law was changed eliminating Presidential term limits, thus allowing Biya to participate in tomorrow's elections.  That change and underlying unrest because of rising food prices resulted in riots that killed over 40 people.  

I've stayed in my house all day today, yet I feel the excitement and uncertainty.  All day voices over loud speakers have been wafting through the air as political party representatives make campaign speeches.  A friend visited me this afternoon and said that tomorrow he will vote for the first time.  He is excited and believes that changes will happen, things simply cannot stay the same.  Others I have talked to are less positive and don't think anything will change, including the name of the President.  I think the results of the election are fairly certain, but how people will react is not.  Like all of the other expatriates I know in Cameroon, I'm planning on laying low the next couple of days and praying that no riots or protest arise to disrupt my work or life.  

If you would like more information about Cameroon politics and the election, please see below:

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I Know Someone

“Wow Kate, it seems as though the best Cameroonians are working on your project. How did you find them?”  For the past three weeks Sharyn Moss, an MPH Nutrition student from Loma Linda University, has been working with me.  Last Wednesday she met Nancy during a brief stop in Bamenda.  She met Nancy after meeting Dr. Okwen and the staff at the Life Abundant Primary (LAP) Health Training Center, where I live.  I immediately agreed that they are very impressive people: Nancy, who initially studied law and then discovered the rewards of public health and now is  Cameroon’s public health version of the main character from the books The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency; Dr. Okwen, who is trained as a medical doctor yet is really a Cameroon Technology Renaissance Man, and the administrator at LAP who wrote an article about exclusive breastfeeding in 2005 and sparked my idea for this project.  
  After Sharyn asked her question I tried to briefly explain all of the connections: I worked with Dr. Okwen when I was here as a Peace Corps Volunteer and we wrote the grant to the Nestle Foundation together.  He knew Nancy who knew Dr. Fonteh, our Co-Principle Investigator from Dschang University, who knew Dr. Focho, our scriptwriter.  Dr. Okwen knew Dr. Yota, the District Medical Officer in Kumbo who essentially facilitates all of my work in Kumbo.  If I need people for a focus group discussion, he makes a few phone calls and a couple of days later I show up and there are a group of men or women eager to share their ideas.

Recording an audio segment at the District Medical Office

Cameroonians do a great job of performing a variety of functions.  For example, Gilbert, shown in the picture above, is Dr. Yota's driver, photocopier, and our voice actor agent.  He helped me recruit 12 voice actors for our audio program from the health district office and nearby health center.  He even recruited himself and enthusiastically played the part of the doctor and one of the women.  However, after listening to a few of the recordings, we realized a couple of days ago that nurses and office workers don't necessarily make great voice actors.  So now I'm in the process of finding a whole new set of voice actors.  It was suggested to me that I visit the secondary schools and see if any students in the drama clubs would be available.  There are two major secondary schools in Kumbo.  One of them is attended by my good friend Emmanuela.  I told Emmanuela what I needed and she said she would talk to the principle for me.  I didn't know anyone at the other school, only where it was located.  Last Friday morning I showed up to talk to the principle and he resolutely told me know, the students could not participate in such activities.  He said that if they did a drama about breastfeeding it would encourage the students to have babies at a young age.  In the afternoon I visited Emmanuela's school.  Within minutes I had a room full of teenagers eager to participate in the drama.  Its a set back to have to start all over again recruiting voice actors and recording the audio program, but I am confident that through the my various relationships it will work out.  It always does.

Friendship and community are first of all inner qualities allowing human togetherness to be a playful expression of a much larger reality.  They can never be claimed, planned, or organized, but in our innermost self the place can be formed where they can be received as gifts.
Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out