Wednesday, December 24, 2014

He Walked With Us

Without the cold weather, the lights, and the commercials Advent feels different in Cameroon than in the States.  Cameroonians who work with the Cameroon Baptist Convention mark the season by having a song and dance competition each morning the week before Christmas.  I thought the songs and dances on the last day were the best, which also happened to be the last morning I was in Cameroon.  I was able to capture one of the songs on video.  It is from South Africa and the words translate to "He Walked With Us".

I reflected on those words and my experiences in Cameroon during the seven hour car trip from Bamenda to Douala.  I thought about what those words, "He Walked With Us" mean to Cameroonians who walk so many places.  

 I pondered why in my list of Cameroonian contacts the names "Emmanuel" and "Emmanuella" meaning "God with us" are the most prevalent.  I recalled the conversations I had with many Cameroonians during the past two weeks; many filled with challenges such as unexpected deaths, necessary surgeries, lack of job prospects, and few educational opportunities, but also hope.   As one of friend said after our conversation about her current financial hardship, "I know God will provide.  He hasn't failed us yet." And I remembered the words I shared earlier in the morning when I said goodbye to my colleagues after hearing the song.   Now I don't recall exactly what I said but I remember thanking them for sharing their joy with me and thanking them for the work they are doing for their country.  That I know the obstacles and challenges are many many, but what they are doing is making a difference and improving the health of many people.   

Advent is different in Cameroon than in the States, but the message is the same, Jesus walked and walks with us.  In the midst of our challenges and providing hope.

May the God of hope go with us everyday, filling our lives with love and joy and peace.  May the God of justice speed us on our way, bringing light and hope to every land and race.  Praying let us work for peace; singing share our joy with all; working for a world that's new; faithful when we hear God's call.
Argentine folk melody 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Heart Training

Sometimes Cameroon can feel like a black hole.  So many problems that could be fixed but are not.  So many needs that repeatedly are not met.  A few weeks before my departure from the States to Cameroon the emails and messages started coming:

“Sister, please we are building a house and need money for the roof.”
“Kate, my child is very sick and the doctor says she needs a surgery.”
“I have started a training program and still need to pay 150,000 CFA otherwise I will be thrown out.”

And then I arrive in Cameroon and quickly reminded of the struggles of daily living.  The water stops flowing exactly at the moment I return from a morning run, hot and sweating, in need of a shower.  The Internet stops functioning on the day that I am trying to post my student’s grades.  The electricity goes out the night before I am to give a presentation on Ebola and Infant Feeding and forced to work by candlelight. 
Working by Candlelight
In the midst of these struggles and needs it occurs to me that I do not have to do this anymore.  I no longer work in Cameroon to fulfill academic requirements.   My university does not require me to do international research.  I am here this time as part of a grant to evaluate the Nutrition Improvement Program.  After the grant is finished, my obligations to work in Cameroon are finished.  I can move on and focus on my life and career that I am building in the US.  

I spent the last couple of days in Kumbo for a Nutrition Improvement Program (NIP) Coordination Meeting.  I have been working with the NIP program for a year and half and it was gratifying to hear positive reports from the Nutrition Counselors and Administrative staff.  The program has quickly moved beyond providing basic nutrition education to medical nutrition therapy.  It was a reminder that although much has been done, much more training and program expansion is needed.  Most of the nutrition counselors have little more than the equivalent of an Associates Degree in Nutrition and have little access to further education.  At the end of the first day one of the Nutrition Counselors came to me, excited to show me that she recently found a "new" Nutrition textbook  in Douala that was dated 2003.  

Nutrition Counselors
 While I was there a colleague from the Cameroon Baptist Convention Primary Health Care Program died from sickle cell anemia. He was less than 25 years old and the fourth out of five children to die.  I also reunited with some of my mothers that took care of me while I lived there from 2011-2012.  Both of them are widows who are responsible for taking care of their children, grandchildren, and work long hours as either as a farmer or cleaner.  

For my friend Doris, I brought her a scarf for a Christmas present and she was so incredibly proud and happy that she knocked on my door early the next morning to have me "snap her".

 I left Kumbo reminded of all of the reasons why I do need to keep coming back to Cameroon. To re-calibrate and remember the daily struggles of the majority of people in this world.  As an educated, single female I am an anomaly in the world.  I wasn't traded for sheep and cows when I was 18 and expected to start bearing children before the age of 20.  I haven't watched four of my children die of something completely preventable.  I haven't been told that there is no money for my school fees or the government no longer recognizes my degrees.   I have access to the latest nutrition and health knowledge.  I believe that I have been blessed so I can bless others.  And taking part in my friend's lives and hearing their hardships trains my heart to expand and care that I don't have to do when I am in the States.  It's like a muscle that has to be used otherwise it withers away.   

Suffering and solidarity with the suffering of others has an immense capacity to "make room" inside of us. It is probably our primary spiritual teacher. 
Richard Rohr