Sunday, October 27, 2013

Small Time I Di Go, But For Now I Go Over Enjoy

I was talking with a friend when I spoke this Pidgin phrase, meaning, “Soon I am going, but for now I am really enjoying being here.”  

Little Stone Lodge in Kumbo
 I was in Kumbo last week facilitating a workshop with 30 peer educators on promotion of exclusive breastfeeding.  I lived in Kumbo from 2011-2012 when I was doing research for my doctorate.  When I arrived last Monday I walked into the Little Stone Lodge where I lived in 2011,  immediately the smell and sight of the place brought back memories of the people I met, the struggles, joy, and lessons learned during that year.  I laughed and was filled with delight as I saw people again who were a big part of my life when I lived there.  Like, Doris, who neatly packed away my earrings and peanut butter that I accidentally left in the house 6 months earlier.  Nothing says friendship like someone who packs peanut butter inside a cardboard box with the words written, “Sister Kate’s things, DO NOT TOUCH!!” and hides it in a cupboard for six months.  

Facilitating the workshop brought my life and work full circle.  The first phrase of my research in 2011 involved asking a variety of people in Kumbo about breastfeeding practices, knowledge, and beliefs.  I quickly learned that the women knew a lot about breastfeeding and were provided with good information at the antenatal clinics, but their husbands and grandmothers did not and often influenced the women, or they themselves, gave the baby other foods or liquids before six months.  There was a need to develop tools to educate other people about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding instead of only pregnant and lactating women.

One of the first people In interviewed in 2011 and still meet each time I go back to Kumbo

When I returned to Cameroon last April as a Nutrition Advisor for an HIV grant, one of my goals was to promote exclusive breastfeeding in the community.  I desired to do this because research has shown that if an HIV positive woman exclusively breastfeeds her child for six months and takes her anti-retroviral drugs the risk of her transmitting HIV from mother to child is almost zero.   So there I was almost 3 years later telling peer educators, people respected in their communities, that sex does NOT spoil breastmilk nor does palm wine stimulate breastmilk flow, beliefs that I learned earlier that negatively influence breastfeeding practices.  I think they were surprised that a “white man” knew of such beliefs and openly spoke against it.  That or they enjoyed my attempts at explaining why the beliefs are not true in Pidgin.

One of the Peer Educators learning about proper positioning and attachment for breastfeeding

Some of the Peer Educators and Life Abundant Primary Health Care Health Promoters 
Song about breastfeeding that the Peer Educators wrote to sing in their communities to promote exclusive breastfeeding and women's nutrition
  Each morning as I watched the sunrise from the upper window in the Little Stone Lodge I reflected on my life and work in Cameroon in the past and in the future.  I continue to be amazed at how my past experiences have prepared me for what I’m doing now in Cameroon and what I will be doing in the United States in a few short months.   A couple of months ago I was offered a position as Associate Professor in the Masters of Public Health Program at Liberty University.  After a lot of prayer and thought I accepted the position with the stipulation that I could continue my work in Cameroon.  The school administration agreed and I signed a contract to start January 2014.  I have tried twice to completely leave Cameroon and have failed both times.  This time I am trying a new approach of simultaneously working in both continents, but with a home in the US and yearly visits to Cameroon.  The opportunity also enables me to work towards my goal of bringing students to Cameroon and exposing them to the realities of health and life in developing countries.  When I was in college I was able to visit a couple of developing countries with my professors and it strongly influenced my lifestyle and career choices, I hope to provide the same opportunities for my students. During the five years that I have lived and worked in Cameroon I have learned so much from the people, not just about breastfeeding, but about life.  In the future I hope to continue learning from them while also sharing what I have learned with my future colleagues and students.      
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All is grace.  Light and water, shelter and food, work and free time, children, parents, and grandparents, birth and death--it is all given to us.  Our vocation is to receive these gifts and say thanks.  If I have any vocation it is to receive from the people the gifts they have to offer to us and to bring these gifts back up North for our own conversion and healing.
Henri Nouwen,  Discernment