Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Palm Sunday

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." Zechariah 9:9

"And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, 'Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.' " Luke 19:41-42
We spent Palm Sunday weekend with our fellow LMH/MDA missionaries at a rest house in Ndop. It was a weekend full of fellowship, relaxing, and even some sightseeing. We saw how they make pottery. We saw how they make tea. (We got to hold a chimp!) It was a high point, a relaxing time, an almost care-free time. But there was plenty that God gave me to think about.
In some ways, the weekend vacation gave me some perspective on life. It's easy to forget about Good Friday when you are caught up in the triumphalism of Palm Sunday. It is easy to worship when the crowd is worshiping, but it is hard to stay with Christ when the crowds turn. It is easy to look at the promises of Christ and forget what it takes for us to keep our end of the bargain.

Both processes, turning clay into pottery and turning tea leaves into tea, involve a breaking down, a drying out, the application of heat. The clay is made stronger and resolute after it is formed by the potter and fired. The tea is made more potent by being crushed and chopped and baked. There's a lot to think about there. He is the potter, we are the clay, but the potter puts the clay to bake in a thousand degree oven. We can have a greater effectiveness, a greater usefulness as God's hands and feet, if we let ourselves be crushed first. Wine comes from crushed grapes, bread comes from wheat under the grindstone. It is often difficult for me to allow God to work on me like I know he must. To prune, to purify, to return.

This life has those triumphal, relaxing, uplifting Palm Sunday moments. There are also brutal, discouraging, demoralizing, Good Friday moments. But at the end of it all, there is the one, glorious, resurrection moment. Let that be enough.
PS: But really, how could one not be happy when one is holding a chimpanzee?)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

To Catch (and Punish) A Thief

I saw a thief get caught yesterday, right outside our house. Thursdays I don't have any classes up at SAC, so I stay home with the kids and do work around the house, and sometimes a little relaxing. Yesterday I was having coffee and checking email when I heard a commotion out back. Men were crashing through the woods and yelling in Lamnso. I saw through the window that I recognized the men, the day guard and the plumber, and they were chasing someone around the fields. I presumed it was a thief, and it turned out I was correct. They caught him and brought him back to a spot twenty yards behind our house where he had dropped his load of two potato sacks filled with tin cans. He was a boy of about 11 or 12. 

The boy was obviously poor. His pants were ill-fitting. I'm not even sure if he had shoes, and the shirt and pullover he was wearing appeared to be stolen, as they were SAC uniform clothes. I watched as the day guard cut a switch from a nearby tree and thrashed the boy while the plumber held him. Beating criminals is common, and sometimes the only justice that can be done. Whether or not it should happen is another question entirely. Being from a relatively corporal-punishment-free culture, witnessing the young boy beaten for a petty crime was disturbing. Watching it from my own home added to the discomfort.

Getting beaten in the dusty farm didn't appear to be pleasant, so I brought the boy some water, and got the story from those who caught him. He was caught taking things from the garbage pits when he started to run. When he ran, the men chased him, and that's where we started the story.

All day I thought of the young boy, stealing garbage and clothes, and getting beaten for it.
Cameroon is nothing if not surprising, and the next day I got the rest of the story from the day guard. After they led the boy away, they gave him water to wash up, a different shirt to replace the clothes he stole, and a meal. Then, they took the boy home to his father, who informed them that the boy had been not going to school and was instead stealing things, supposedly even stealing money from his own mother. They made sure the boy was going back to school and are planning to check up on the boy periodically to be sure he is still on the right track.

So, now in addition to the sad, disturbed, sympathetic feelings I have for the young thief because of his thrashing, and my discomfort with the brutal corporal punishment, I have feelings of admiration and pride for SAC staff, as they are trying to do what is best for the boy and best for society. This is the kind of world we live in, a mixed bag of good, bad, and confusing. It is nothing if not fodder for reflection.


Friday, February 28, 2014


Part of the SAC teacher's visit to St. Mary's college in Ndop was a football match between the teachers. I got to play! People asked me if I was able to play. I may be white, but I'm from suburban America: of course I play soccer!

We wore the SAC team's uniforms. I picked number 13, the day of the month Logan and I married, and the day of the month Helena and James were born, and Manny Machado's number, the Baltimore Orioles' third baseman. He's my children's favorite baseball player. When I played soccer in grade school, I always coveted jersey number 8, Cal Ripken Jr's number. I figured I'd continue the tradition.

Of course there had to be palm wine, so we started by literally pregaming it, with palm-wine passed around. Don't worry, palm win is closer to gatorade in terms of its content than it is to beer or grape wine. Electrolytes! The palm wine was fresh, or "young," and so it was sweet and not so alcoholic.

We "warmed up," took pictures, then the match began. I should note that I met several teachers from SAC that played in the match, teachers I had never met before, and teachers who were surprisingly good at football. In the words of Mr. Killian, another SAC teacher, "No Battle is won without mercenaries."
Where's Waldo?
The field was terrible, with almost no grass, uneven ground, dirt and dust and rocks all around. Still, we managed to have fun. After an early goal by St. Mary's, SAC got two goals by the end of the first half. The first half also saw my one notable play, where I backed up the goalie when he came out to cut off the angle. The ball got by him, but I was there to clear it out, earning me the title of Assistant Goalkeeper from Killian and the rest of the crowd.
Setting up for a corner kick.
 (As an aside, Killian is one of the most hilarious teachers at SAC. Once, during exams, he left the room where he was proctoring an exam and spoke sternly to the neighboring class, who had finished their exam already. "You people need to stop noise and be quiet. Your elder brothers and sisters in Form Five are still signing their death warrants.")

After the excitement of the first half, the second half was rather pedestrian. Both sides were tired, the sun was hot, the level of play decreased. No goals were scored. I got super exhuasted. Everyone was happy when the whistle blew for the end of the game, then we shook hands and had more palm wine. I was happy for the Cameroonian Gatorade.

After the game, the players took a "rub down" with a bucket bath, then we got dressed for dinner. And had more palm wine. 

Football is widely popular here. The people love to watch a match, even between the most inexperienced teams. I found the playing style a little uneven, with ball handling skills well developed, and team play beyond basic strategy almost non-existant. This was, after all, only an amateur match, between teachers, so is not indicative of the level of play country-wide. I waas playing, and I haven't played since 8th grade. Cameroon has a well-respected team which qualified for the World Cup this year, and Cameroon is home to some of the world's top players.

And now, SAC has a white guy on their team.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

UNVDA Rice Processing Plant

As part of our trip to St. Mary's College in Ndop, the two faculties were treated to a tour of the UNVDA rice processing facility. UNVDA stands for Upper Nun Valley Development Authority. The plant takes the rice from a number of different farmers and processes it together, combining forces to be able to have industrialized capabilities. It was very interesting.

Many teachers were surprised to see so many bags of rice, millions of kgs of rice, in storage. Some were offended that so much food would be kept from the public, until they learned on the tour that the rice must be aged in order to cook properly.
The tour was all in French, so I spent my time nosing around and taking pictures. I don't understand a word of French. I picked up some of the content from conversations the teachers had amongst themselves.

One of the interesting things about the tour was discovering that the region only uses about 1/8th of its potential farmland.  The goal of the UNVDA is to slowly begin to develop more and more land, until by 2020 it is all used for the benefit of the local economy. Upon hearing this, one of the teachers brought up "by 2035 we will emerge," a reference to Cameroonian President Paul Biya's goal of developing Cameroon to the point where it is an "emerging" nation by 2035, as opposed to the developing nation it is now.
Paul Biya, by the way, supervises much of the work around here. You see his face on the wall on calendars, in framed portraits of him where the picture was taken in the 90's, on people's t-shirts and other clothing, on huge posters hanging from lampposts... He is the "people's choice," as the t-shirts proclaim. They've been choosing him for 30 years now. 

I liked seeing how rice is processed and made available to the people. It was fascinating and informative, both hearing how things work and seeing how tours work here, how people behave and what tidbits from the tour they latch onto. I hope the UNVDA is successful in its efforts to develop the rice production and the land, helping to put Cameroon to the road to emergence. 


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Miracles and Mysteries on the Road to St. Mary's

Last Saturday the Staff at SAC paid a visit to St. Mary's College in Ndop.  Ndop is a town about midway between Kumbo and Bamenda and is famous for its rice fields. The programme as published going into the weekend included introductions, songs by the St. Mary's students, a tour of the UNVDA rice factory, and a football match pitting the two faculties against each other. 

Well, we did those things, and more... unfortunately, one of the additional unprogrammed events was a vehicle bearing SAC teachers spinning out and flipping over, not more than 4 minutes from the destination. There must have been about 13 million guardian angels helping, because the five teachers inside the care were unhurt! A second car, unrelated to our trip, crashed in the same spot for the same reason during the rescue effort of "our" car. There was a tricky-to-navigate part of the road, and drivers unused to the highway paid the price for their lack of practice. The second car that crashed had three passengers rushed to the hospital. We were very thankful to have our teachers safe and sound. Many SAC teachers attributed the lack of injuries to the fact that we prayed before we set out.

After everyone gathered safely, the staff of St. Mary's led us onto campus in a triumphant procession. It looked pretty smart, with the St. Mary's teachers in their matching track suits riding two or three to a motorcycle, and the SAC cars following behind. We were welcomed by the students, and there was singing as promised, and "self-introduction." The teachers from St. Mary's tended to be younger, while our own teaches tend to be older... There was some joking about the trip, because St. Mary's had visited SAC 7 years ago, and this was a "payback" invitation to visit them in return. The reason they waited so long was so that they could have children and those children could defeat us in football.

Breakfast (at 10 AM) was delicious, rice with sardine sandwiches and your choice of soda. We have noticed that the food options here, especially at big events, aren't varied. People are just happy to have a filling meal.

There were speeches, of course. There are always speeches. The entire visit was also punctuated by the hilarious comedic addresses of one of the teachers from SAC, who imitated a Nigerian televangelist. It was apparently hilarious... I have never seen the televangelist, but everyone else seemed to be at least familiar with his "prophecies" and such things.

The visit to the UNVDA Rice facility was interesting, and merits its own post, as does the football match. About the rice tour, I will say that a mystery was revealed to me during the tour. On the buses between Bamenda and Douala, there are salesmen who get on and sell "magic powder" to the passengers. The magic powder has about 25 different uses, and will do everything from ease your aching teeth to help your irregular menstrual flow. It's a sham, and I've always wondered just what exactly was in the powder. Well, on the tour, I discovered that entrepreneurial locals take the hulls of the rice, bleach them in the sun, and then grind it up and sell it as magic powder. Mystery solved!

As for the football, we won, 2-1, but our ladies lost the handball match by forfeit, as we only had three teachers willing to play. More on that later, especially more pictures.

After washing the sweat and dirt off and dressing up a little bit, we went to a bar/hotel in Ndop for dinner and drinks and socializing. The sign for the bar was one of the more interesting I've seen here:

I had a nice time talking with some of the St. Mary's teachers, and getting to know some of the SAC teachers better. There were more speeches, and gifts given, and food. There was some unexpected entertainment, as a local palm wine tapper was busy up in the trees next door. In Ndop, they tap at the top of the palm to get the palm wine, in Kumbo there is a different method and a different plant. In Kumbo, they tap the raffia palm bush, getting at it underground. 

Before it was dark, we got back in the cars and headed home. It was an uneventful return trip, thankfully. I was tired and exhausted from being up and out all day, from playing football, from socializing, but I am glad I went. It was nice to come home and see my family. Most of the kids were still awake but going to bed, a process which I interrupted, but it is always nice to hug your babies.

As Logan  stayed home with the kids, and the other expat SAC teachers have returned to America, I was the only American around. I am becoming more aware of the various groups of Cameroonians, and notice how certain teachers from the same tribe tend to talk to each other more and stick together. Tribalism is embedded deep in our psyche, no more here than in the States.

It was a good experience, and hopefully we'll host St. Mary's here next year, or another school. In the meantime, I'll practice my football skills for the rematch.