Wednesday, January 15, 2014

We Are Together

We were invited to a private Mass tonight, praying for the recently deceased souls of several
Sisters from the congregation of the Sisters next door.  No, it wasn't Sr. Mercy or Hilda who died, but two of their sisters in other countries, and one of Sr. Hilda's cousins. One of the themes that kept coming up in the prayer intentions was community.

We have been blessed with many strong communities, not least of which have been the families in which we were raised. I think about our Catholic Campus Ministry in college, Mar-Lu-Ridge summer camp, Holy Spirit parish and All Saints parish in Virginia, and our very dear Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Los Alamos. Recently we have become a part of the Lay Mission-Helpers/Mission Doctor Association community, and we were briefly engaged in the life of two parishes in Los Angeles during our training. Now here we are in Cameroon, in Nso', near Junction, at Saint Augustine College, and community is all around us.

We have slowly been incorporating into the local community (communities?) here. There is the staff community, the Catholic community, the neighborhood community, the expat community. We are meeting people and getting to know them, growing ever so slightly closer with time. We are learning the languages. We are starting to have opinions about current events and situations at work and in our neighborhood, whereas at first everything was so new and different we just accepted things at face value. We look to our neighbors for help, and offer it when it is needed. We would love to be more involved in the local parish, but that has proven difficult. We are regulars in our neighborhood, such that the children we pass don't yell "kimbang! white man!" so much as they greet us: "Father of James! Mother of Helena!" We see people around town that we know. All these things are some of the superficial ways we are included in the community.

Still, community is deeper than being recognized by the people you buy from each week or sit next to in church. We are so blessed to have a very supportive community in our parish in New Mexico, IHM. Sometimes we feel homesick, though we are glad to be away from the cold right now! We think and pray for everyone there often, and we know they pray for us often. I love to remember specific people and families in my thoughts and prayers.  Sometimes my train of thought brings me to think about certain people, like the guy riding the motorcycle wearing the Red Sox hat makes me think of a certain Deacon and his family. Or the piano printed fabric in the market makes me think of a certain friend and youth ministry volunteer. In a very real way, we have become even more close to our IHM community in our absence, and it has happened through prayer.

One of the aspects of community here is best shown by a short story.  One Sunday night I walked to Junction to broadcast my weekly radio show. This is one of the few times I venture out after dark, and certainly the only time I walk. It's not that it is really dangerous, it is just that I don't want to take any chances. On my way to the station, I noticed that another expat was spending time relaxing at a local bar. Thirty minutes later, after the show was over, I went back to that bar to see if she wanted or needed someone to walk her home.
She had just left, but one of the patrons stepped outside to look with me and see the direction she had gone. I thanked him and walked away, and he responded with, "we are together." I thought about that all the way home.

"We are together." This is a common phrase here, and this time I heard it and started to understand its meaning. We are together, we are a community, and one affects the whole. Therefore, we help who we can when we can. Gifts get shared or passed on. Concern is expressed for others' safety while they travel. In some ways, you get the feeling that people in your community truly care for your well-being, despite what feuds or disagreements you might be having. We are together.

And to our family and friends in the states, through prayer and through Sacraments and through charity and through Christ's body, the Church: we are together.


Friday, January 10, 2014

What A Month

What a month! We have been very busy over the last month; there have been ups and downs and run-arounds. We have celebrated Advent and Christmas, and now we are in a new year, and are back to work. Here is an incomplete list of what we have been about. I am sure that we will write more about some of these things, or I hope to, because there is much to share:

The end of the first term at SAC:

In a world before the dawn of computerized spreadsheets, recording and calculating marks and statistics for report cards is... tedious. Also, we continue to have frustrations with the state of academics in Cameroon.

A visit from a friend from home:

Our friend Sara from Los Alamos arrived mid-December, and it has been wonderful to celebrate the holy days, new year, and plain old daily life with her. Picking up Sara from the airport was a multi-day adventure. Getting to Douala requires an eight hour ride on public transportation, and at least one night away from home. Unfortunately the airline lost her luggage, containing a precious delivery of Nutella as well as other minor things, like most of her clothes. Fortunately she packed the cheese in her carry-on, and second-hand clothes are cheap and easy to come by here. (Happy update: The airport has located her luggage, and she'll pick it up at the airport on her way back home.)
Sara with our tailor, Mr. Fai

We managed to have a very festive Christmas, preserving some of our family traditions while participating in some of the Cameroonian traditions. A big highlight for us was two successful Skype sessions Christmas Eve, one with my family and one with Logan's family. It was the best connection for Skype we've had during our time here, and it was a joy to clearly see our loved ones.

Ephraim & Teresa who invited our family to Christmas dinner.
Cultural week:

The week following Christmas featured Ngonnso', a weeklong festival at the Palace. There were many people gathered to dress in traditional modes, perform traditional songs and dances, etc. And don't forget the jujus! We went down a few times to see the festivities.
A Juju at the Palace from Cultural Week
Local visits:

For many people here, Christmas and New Years is a time of visiting neighbors. We visited and we hosted and we had dinners and lunches and afternoon snacks. One discovery from Christmas day is that Christmas trees here feature balloons. Yes, balloons.

This was the first time we've really travelled since we arrived. We had visited Bamenda once before, and only for the day, and my trip to Douala and back was the first time any of us had slept away from home in six months! After Christmas we visited our Fulani friend Karimu for a night, which was our first family "holiday" and an interesting look into rural life in the village. Then, we had a long weekend in Njinikom to visit a Mission Doctor family, which turned into a sort of Lay Mission-Helper/Mission Doctor reunion. The weekend was capped by a delightful visit to the Bamenda Central Police station to apply for permanent resident cards at the immigration office.
The bus we rode from Douala to Bamenda
 SAC Golden Jubilee Celebration:

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Saint Augustine College, so since the students arrived back from the holidays, everyone has been busy to prepare for the festivities. A special fabric was printed, and we got shirts made for all the boys in the family and dresses for all the girls, and we'll match the hundreds of others gathered to celebrate come Saturday. There will be sports and Masses and talent shows and who knows what else.

Back to work:

We've had several staff meetings for the new term, and it seems like this is the time everyone kicks into gear and tries to get stuff done. After the jubilee, of course. The other news here is that Logan will begin teaching English to Form I, which will mean plenty of remedial work, especially with the illiterate students, which number more than you'd think for having had six years of primary school already. File that under academic frustrations.

What else? We've enjoyed several emails, letters, and packages from friends and family in the states, so thank you so much! We've even managed to successfully send letters, postcards, and even packages back home, so that was fun. We got the boys slingshots for Christmas, which might have been a bad idea. We shaved their heads, which was a good idea. The children continue to grow and develop, and are starting to adjust more and more to life in Cameroon. We now have contemporary African art on our walls, side by side with more traditional carvings and crafts. Sadly, one of our fellow American teachers left to go back home. We got new cushion covers for our parlor chairs.

Now we are wrapping things up with the Jubilee, wiping tears away as Sara leaves, preparing notes for classes which start next week, and trying to get back in the swing of things after the long break.

Thank you for your continued prayers and support. We'd love to hear from you, drop us an email and tell us how things are with you!