Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Change of Plans

Ok, since we are still in the strike that began back in November and has affected the education system nationwide, including my role as Campus Minister of CATUC, I have been reassigned to work with the Youth Ministry team.  This is a good alternative and will certainly keep me more engaged with the youth and young adults of the Archdiocese of Bamenda.

When discussing my alternatives with Archbishop Esua, I had been informed that working in Youth Ministry would involve going out to bush parishes and the need to “rough it.”  Given my appreciation for camping and for the outdoors this was much more of an enticement than a hindrance. 

Fortunately for me I did not have to wait long before one of these visits was scheduled for our team.  Just over a week ago we all packed up in our 4x4 and headed out for Menka Quasi-Parish in the middle of some beautiful hills.  The drive there was an exciting adventure and required us to get out and push the vehicle a few times. 

Below is a video of one these episodes.

The parish itself was a surprisingly large church that was serving the surrounding area and was preparing more than 200 youths to receive their sacraments.  Our purpose over this weekend was to hold a youth rally and let the youths know that we, back in Bamenda had not forgotten about them simply because they were way out in the bush. 

We held several talks over the weekend; we sang, dance, ate and prayed!  It was a blessed event and a great experience for me personally.  Because I may have been the first white man to visit in a long time, I was engaged to take many pictures with several of the youths, and was a much curious figure for the littlest ones; who weren’t sure whether to come close or run away! All of it makes me smile as I think back over the weekend and picture the faces of the kids and youths.

Here are a few pictures of our adventure in Menka!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Observations, Appreciations and Challenges III

Part 3:  Challenges

Apologies for the long delay in writing the third part of this series but we are in the middle of an ongoing strike which has resulted in closed schools and blocked access to the internet.  Nonetheless daily life has continued, albeit differently than was originally expected.

Despite these new challenges to living in Cameroon I would not alter what I consider the more difficult aspects of residing in sub-Sahara Africa.  There have been many adjustments, all of which have understandably come with the territory.  For instance, most of the food that I have tried I have enjoyed experiencing especially the roasted fish and fried plantains.  That said, I have not and don’t believe I will acquire a taste for “palm oil,” which is often used in preparing several of the dishes here like cooked vegetables and black beans. On a more superficial level, as a result of being a chocoholic finding good dark chocolate has proved to be cumbersome at best and relatively expensive. 

It has also been an adjustment to learn to do my laundry on a regular basis by hand in my bathroom sink.  Washing machines are quite rare and dryers are non-existent to my knowledge (which is actually not a bad thing because we therefore use clotheslines and in a small way benefit the environment).  
 All of these challenges have been fairly standard and to be expected.  But what I have found to be the most frustrating is the lack of consistent running water.  We can go weeks at a time with no running water and as a result learning to “fetch” water has been a new skill acquired.  If we knew the water was not going to be available based on a schedule it would be easier to manage but at times I have been in the shower, all soaped up and the water has disappeared for some time.  When we are lucky the water may trickle back enough to finish quickly, but if not then hopefully you have some water stored on the side.  If indeed running water is not available for weeks then this makes showering a most appreciated luxury. 
Often times we have not had running water inside but outside the rains are coming down hard.  It should come as no surprise then that when this has been the case I have wondered if it would be culturally unacceptable for a naked white man to go outside and soap up under the natural flowing waters from the sky.  My guess is that this would not go over too well: Janice and Chad you don’t need to worry about unexpected phone calls from the bishop’s house.  Haha!  

I had basically figured out an acceptable solution to this problem when my friend Catherine was going to bring me a camp shower to string up in my bathroom but she has had to postpone her trip due to the socio-political unrest in this country.  I did however find all the necessary components to make a hand-washing station but since I did not have all the necessary tools I had to enlist the assistance of the carpenters on grounds and paid them in the currency of Guinness!
All in all the challenges have been eye opening and have helped me appreciate the things I take for granted, and also to realize the daily struggles that my Cameroonian brothers and sisters face even for the most basic needs.  Walking in solidarity with them, even in small ways will, I pray, help me to grow in awareness and compassion for the millions of people who live with so little in comparison to my accustomed western lifestyle.

Yours truly,

Friday, December 9, 2016

Observations, Appreciations and Challenges II

Part 2:  Appreciations

Despite only being here for a few months, one of the ways I have felt quite “blessed” is the sense of community with which working at CATUC and living here on the archdiocese grounds has filled me with.  My experience here in Cameroon so far might actually be better described as a sense of belonging to a large extended family.  Yes we are all co-workers and neighbors but there really seems to be a much deeper connection that goes to the level of family and friendship.  Let me share an example.

Even before I had started working my future co-workers came and searched me out to welcome me to the university.  They had been and continue to be friends with my predecessor and when they knew I had arrived, they made a point to come to my apartment to welcome me in person.  As I have gotten to know them, along with others at CATUC I genuinely feel as if I have been adopted into a wider “human” family.   There is no need for special invitations for lunch, it is almost implied that we can all just meet in one of the canteens and catch up. 
 This informal time together and sense of community also extends to my experience at my apartment.  Pretty much on a daily basis when I am walking home, I am greeted by those neighbors who are outside. When I get upstairs to the veranda, it becomes time to debrief the day, harass each other, and laugh. Our time on the veranda, which overlooks a large portion of the grounds, usually includes heckling and being heckled by anyone who is walking past on the opposite road near the priest’s house.  Apparently simply being within earshot is reason enough to begin a conversation!  Unlike back in the US, here in Cameroon it is really inconceivable that you would not know your neighbors and at a minimum stop to greet them and inquire about their day.  Maybe not everyone would appreciate this aspect of life here but for someone who is an extrovert it is like having a mini homecoming each day.
 One final appreciation that I want to share which seems to have recently begun to take root in me and for which I know I will not be able to adequately articulate is this sense of an un-compartmentalized day.  Back in the US I am so used to having categories for my day like time for work, time for prayer, time for shopping, etc. But what I am beginning to sense here in Cameroon (and maybe in all of Africa) is that life is less about categories and rather more about a sense of wholeness throughout the day.  Life is less about deliverables and deadlines, and more about your relationship with others.  There seems to be a greater sense of an “organic whole” and an allowing for the day to simply unfold naturally.  I sense less of a need to ensure that I check off everything on my to-do list but instead to allow for the day to present what it may; whether it is unexpectedly ending up at a friend’s house for hours, or being absorbed into watching the national soccer game while shopping at the main market, or sitting down to meet new people as my friend Ina gets an unplanned for pedicure.
As I continue my stay here in Cameroon I am quite appreciative of this growing sense of an organic whole in my day and I hope this momentum will expand and take a deeper root in my heart!!!