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

Thursday, November 3, 2011


I round the corner and look for the clock in the distance.  As soon as I see it I want to know the time.  Its the halfway mark in a long-distance running race.  Once I see the time, the questions begin.  What is my pace?  If I stay at this pace what will be my finishing time?  Can I keep this pace?  Can I go faster or should I slow down a bit? How does my heart feel, can I still breathe?  How many more hills are there?  How far back is the next girl?  How close is the girl in front of me?  Can I finish?  What was I thinking to do this in the first place?!

The end of October marked nine months of being in Cameroon and half way through the 18 month project.  A couple of days ago I realized that the same questions that I ask myself at the midpoint during any long distance race are the same questions I've been asking myself lately about this project.  Well, not the ones about the competition, but all the other ones.

Unlike races where you never are supposed to look behind you, I think when it comes to project implementation it is helpful to look behind and remember God's faithfulness and provision.  When I step back from the day-to-day details of keeping the project going and have time to reflect I am always amazed that we even received the grant in the first place, my supportive and adept research team, the professional and personal connections in Kumbo, the work that has been completed so far, and more recently, the political calm after electing the 29 year -reigning President Biya to another 7-year term.  Before I left for Cameroon I had MANY pre-race nerves.  It was like choosing to do the hardest, painful, longest race I've ever done all over again, but this time with a completely different goal.  How would I administer the budget and navigate a foreign banking system?  How would we recruit all of the women?  How would we develop a quality program?  How will the political climate effect my ability to work and live?  How will I deal with the inevitable loneliness and isolation?  What if it all falls apart?

This past Tuesday we officially started the intervention phase of the project.  Prior to this week I was worried that I wouldn't have the energy to begin this next phase as I knew it would be the start of a logistical nightmare--trying to make over 1,000 photocopies of various forms when the electricity can go off at any minute, arranging for food, health workers, and participants to come on time when there is no time, getting women to answer 42 questions about breastfeeding when they can barely read and write, and paying for everyone's transportation with small bills when none exist in the country.  But as the day grew closer, I became excited and was reminded of a famous line from a running partner in California, "Ok, we're doing it!"  After over a year and half of wondering what this would be like, if we would really get to the intervention phase, if the people would really come, if I could really juggle it all and remain patient and trust, it happened.  They did come.  They did listen to the first segment of the audio program.  They did fill out the forms.  Ok, not completely, but for the most part. It is just the beginning of the most intense phase of the whole project, there are still many more weeks to go, more details to figure out, but we're doing it.  And if this is like any other hard thing I've done in my life, its easier once you get past the halfway point.  

Lord, You established peace for us, all that we have accomplished you have done for us. 
Isaiah 26:12