Thursday, April 25, 2013

"Sister, You Have Been Missing For Too Long"

When I decided to leave my job in Niger and return to Cameroon, I knew very little about what my work in Cameroon would entail.  Three weeks later, I'm still figuring it out.  But I did know four things and those things have indeed been true.

1.  I would be doing work that I believed in.  My job mostly entails overseeing the integration of nutrition into the continuum of care for patients in health centers and hospitals in the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon.  This means that I come alongside of Cameroonian health professionals and help them implement evidence-based nutrition practices at HIV/AIDS care and treatment centers, infant welfare clinics, antenatal clinics, and in-patient treatment. It also means that I work in a variety of settings doing a variety of work--research, program planning and evaluation, staff development and training, patient counseling, and teaching.  I count it a great privilege to work with Cameroonians who are doing their best to help their neighbors.  They provide the ideas, I just try to help them systematize their work.  A couple of weeks ago I was impressed by a young Cameroonian nutrition educator sharing her reasons why exclusive breastfeeding is best for HIV positive mothers.

One of the Nutrition Educators explaining the importance of Exclusive Breastfeeding using an algorithm she created.

This also means that I often get to interact directly with all kinds of people--program managers, nurses, nutrition educators, patients, Westerners, Cameroonians.  A couple of weeks ago I went out to visit a HIV support group and was so happy to simply sit amongst the women and ask them questions and hear about their lives instead of coming in with a program to manage or data to collect.

Sitting with women during a support group meeting.  

2.   I would be with people I love. When I left Cameroon in July 2012 it was dreadfully hard to say goodbye to many dear Cameroonian family and friends.  And now how sweet it is been to be reunited with them, after "missing for too long", as they are quick to say.   Its also been fun to travel to different parts of the region as inevitably someone recognize me and knows me from either my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer or as a researcher.  There have been a lot of serendipitous reunions in the last few weeks that have reminded me of all of the frustrations, joys, sorrows, anger, love, confusion, and laughter I have experienced in this country in the last seven years.  Certainly the pleasant memories far surpass the painful ones and now relish the multiple reunifications.

Celebrating Baby Kate's fifth birthday

3.  I would be in a place of beauty.  I guess the Colorado girl in me needs to be close to mountains and natural beauty to feel at peace.  Although I've tried for many years, I can never capture the beauty of this place.  It was once explained to me that this is because the light here is different, equatorial light, so the brilliant greens and purple sunsets never come through clearly.  Whatever the reason, I daily marvel at seeing a waterfall from my front yard after taking out the trash or the rolling green hills just beyond the health centers and hospitals I visit.

View from Mendakwe Health Center

View from Mbingo Baptist Hospital

4. I would laugh.  Between statements of the obvious and the vocabulary of Pidgin English, Cameroonians keep me laughing.  Some of my favorites so far:

"Oh, you are from Colorado?  I heard that they have mountains there.  At least I hard that from a Lil Wayne rap song."
"My jewelry rhymes with my outfit"
"The placenta is like a corn sifter for the baby in the womb.  It keeps the bad things out and the good
 things in" 
"Your head is just like the computer because it can store so many things inside.  So God is wonderful." 

And I'm sure there will be more to come....

Monday, April 8, 2013

New Life

I believe that once again I am being sent on and will return to Cameroon again.  Whether for work or leisure, I believe I will return.  I wrote those words in my July 30, 2012 blog post.   For the second time in my life, I've returned to Cameroon much earlier then I expected.  On August 1, 2012 I left Cameroon and moved to Niger to work as a Health and Nutrition Program Manager for an international non-governmental organization.  I was supposed to stay for two years, I left after eight months.  Unexpectedly I returned to Cameroon in December to spend the Christmas holiday with good friends.  On the second to last day I providentially had a conversation with the Director of Health Services for the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Board (CBCHB).  He explained to me that CBCHB recently was awarded a President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) grant and desperately needed a Nutrition Advisor.  The next day I left  for Niger encouraged by the possibility of returning to Cameroon, a country that I know and love, but realizing the likelihood was small.  But then all of the pieces came together and on March 29th, 2013 I returned to Cameroon once more.  

Sunset over the Niger River

For about a month I knew that I would be leaving Niger on Good Friday and my first full day in my new home would be Easter Sunday.  Every so often I contemplated what it meant spiritually to leave and arrive on those religiously significant holidays.  The day before I left Niger, Maunday Thursday, it occurred to me that I these last 8 months have been like a Lenten journey through the desert.  I searched for peace, joy, life, and contentment like a nomad searches for water, but never really found it.  On Good Friday morning, I boarded a plane and left the desert.  

I arose early on Easter morning in my new Cameroonian home and joined hundreds of others to climb a hill outside of Bamenda and watch the sun rise.  After a few prayers and a short meditation, we descended the hill paraded through the streets of Bamenda singing while dodging taxis and motorcycles.  Later in the day I was challenged to think about where I see new life. Certainly I saw it in the Easter morning message, the lively crowd, the view of the waterfall,  but then I realized I see it most prominently in me.  Its been a long eight months since I've felt this content, peaceful, and whole.  My desert journey is over, my new life in Cameroon has begun.  

The deep calm you experience, the profound inner peace with which you are filled and which you find so sweet, is not an illusion, but a true operation of the Holy Spirit, who speaks to the center of your soul.
Abandonment to Divine Providence