Monday, July 30, 2012

Bye For Now

When my friend Eunice was in the hospital dying of cancer, I started communicating more with her husband, Peter, to find out about her health and the situation of her three children, Kate, Babila, and Lord.  I always appreciated that he ended our phone conversations with, "bye for now."  Uncertain if my recurring phone calls with questions that really couldn't be answered were more annoying then helpful, I appreciated this salutation.   To me it signified that it wasn't the end of the conversation, just a pause for now.  I could call again and continue my search for answers.  

Peter, Baby Kate, Babila, and Lord
I returned to Cameroon at the end of June to collect six month post data on the efficacy of the audio program to promote exclusive breastfeeding, train health workers in using the audio program in their antenatal clinics, verify the translation of the audio program into two local language, arrange for the recording and broadcasting of the audio program on two local community radio stations, co-facilitate a press conference with the local media and health delegates to share our results.  Now I certainly didn’t and couldn’t have done all of that and everything else related to his project without the assistance of wonderful, loyal, competent Cameroonians.  And that is why it is hard to say goodbye to dear, dear friends and colleagues, even if it is just for now.   

Doris and I at my going-away party
Every once in awhile I experience moments of deep connectedness, wholeness, completeness.  Its hard to exactly explain these serendipitous moments, because they are a matter of the soul, not of the mind or intellect.  They may happen in the most unlikeliest places, such as in a circa 1980 Toyota Corolla with 9 other people wedged inside or walking along a dusty road, dodging goats and chickens, aware that everyone is staring at me because I look and talk different.  Or they may occur in more predictable ways like watching the sun set while hearing the happy voices of children playing football or seeing the healthy, beautiful babies of the mothers who participated in our research program.  But it doesn't matter when or how they occur, the point is that they do, and for me they happen the most often in Cameroon.  And this, probably more then anything else, is why it so hard to say good-bye, even if it is just for now.  

Sunrise from my loft window

In the last week I compiled a list of all of the things I've learned during this project and it didn't take long to reach over 50 different items.  Some of them are quite practical like scrap metal makes excellent bread pans and how to keep a fire going, some are professional like how to get over 200 people to return over 5 times with little forewarning and explanation and write a dissertation, and many are related to learning how to allow the sorrows of this place to break my heart over and over again and the letting the joys make it whole again.  For all of the lessons learned is why it is hard to say goodbye to this project, even if it is just for now.

View of Oku Mountain from my house

But now I have said my good-byes.  All of the money for this project has been spent.  I have packed up my things and moved out of my “little stone lodge.”  I have exchanged phone numbers and emails with promises that “we are still together” if even from afar.  When I left Cameroon after serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2007, I was told that I was being “sent-on” only to return to Cameroon.  I believe that once again I am being sent on and will return to Cameroon again.  Whether for work or pleasure, I believe I will return.  Although not easy to say it, it still is bye for now.

 Tomorrow I’m leaving for Niger to begin a new job as Health and Nutrition Program Manager with Samaritan's Purse.  I’ll be based in the capital city, Niamey, and overseeing a child survival project.  That and that it is very different from Cameroon is about everything I know.  Niger is in the desert, I lived in one of the lushest places in Cameroon. Niger is predominately Muslim, I lived in the predominately Christian part of Cameroon.  I will live and primarily work exclusively with expatriates in Niger, I’ve lived by myself and worked primarily with Cameroonians.  With all of these differences I often wonder if it will be as difficult to say good-bye to Niger as it has been to Cameroon. I don’t know, I can only wait and see.  I have started a new blog to record my experiences in Niger and can be found at

It takes courage to move away from the safe place into the unknown, even when we know that the safe place offers false safety and the unknown promises us a saving intimacy with God.  We realize quite well that giving up the familiar and reaching out with open arms towards Him who transcends all our mental grasping and clinging makes us very vulnerable.  Somewhere we sense that although holding on to our illusions might lead to a truncated life, the surrender in love leads to the cross.  It is a sign of spiritual maturity when we can give up our illusory self-control and stretch out our hands to God.  But it would be just another illusion to believe that reaching out to God will free us from pain and suffering.  Often, indeed, it will take us where we rather would not go.  But we know that without going there we will not find our life.

Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Prayers of the Mother

Across this world, in homes both large and small, in neighborhoods of low, mixed, and high socioeconomic status, in moments of peace and turmoil, in a multitude of languages, there are mothers praying, crying, rejoicing, pleading on behalf of their children. This fact struck me this past week when spontaneously my American and Cameroonian mother gathered at my house this past week to pray.  In their own languages, both were offering their heart on behalf of their children.  Praying for protection, strength, and guidance.

Ma and Ma after preparing corn fufu and njamajama

 During this project of promoting exclusive breastfeeding through an audio program I have interacted with many mothers.  I’ve heard stories of women losing their husbands to death and alcoholism and display unwavering strength to provide for their children.  It continues to remind me of the strength of the bond between mother and the child that, although manifests differently in various cultures, is nonetheless invincible.  

And it reminds me of my own mother and the power of her love and prayers that enables her to support and visit me multiple times in Cameroon and join in the adventures.    

God could not be everywhere and therefore He made mothers
Jewish Proverb

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Your White Man is Back

I’ve been back in Kumbo for a little over a week now and it didn’t take long for the word to spread that I returned, or as my good friend was told, “Your White Man is back.”  It’s been good to be back and struck once more at the complexities, paradoxes, and rhythms of life.  It seems like when I’ve come back in the past, I return to bad news.  Someone has died or been injured or attacked by thieves.  This time when I returned, it was news from home that the Waldo Canyon Fire was sweeping through my parent’s neighborhood, displacing 32,000 people from their homes including my dad.   This time the reminder of the harsh realities of life didn’t immediately come from Cameroon, but from my hometown.  Because of so much smoke in the air and the large damage throughout the area it took days to find out the status of their house.  Meanwhile I was reconnecting with many Cameroonian friends who, in typical fashion, were asking about my family and “all people for that side.”  When I was able to explain to a few Cameroonians what was happening, many showed their concern and for days asked how my family was and promised to pray, demonstrating their solidarity, which is such a hallmark of the Cameroonian people. When I left Kumbo last February it was dry, dusty, and barren.  Now it is rainy and verdant green, a powerful reminder of the resiliency of the earth. I am happy to report that my parent’s home was spared from the fire and my dad has been able to return home.

Waterfall in Oku--a common site this time of year.
I am only in Kumbo for a few weeks to collect some more data and facilitate a training with a few health workers.  Last week we called for all the participants to return to fill out a post test.  It was delightful to see the participants again, this time with their babies who had been born while I was away.  I especially enjoyed asking the parents their baby names and enjoyed meeting Blessed Assurance and God Reigns.  The joy, however, was tempered with a twinge of sadness as the couple that traveled the farthest to meet us, explained that their baby had died and thus could not complete the post test.  And my joy in being back is also tempered with a twinge of sadness that this project will soon finish and my days in Cameroon are numbered.

Blessed Assurance,  one of the study participant's daughter

The notion that our lives are like the eternal cycle of the seasons does not deny the struggle or the joy, the loss or the gain, the darkness or the light, but encourages us to embrace it all--and to find in all of it opportunities for growth.
Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak