Suitcases and Stuff

20191103_230209Living out of a suitcase is an interesting state of affairs. While we technically now have a new temporary home in Cameroon, and therefore can’t really call the time in said house ‘living out of a suitcase’, I did calculate that from May of 2018 until the present time (Nov 2019) I have not gone more than 6 weeks without either relocating to a temporary location (staying somewhere for 4-6 weeks) or taking a short trip (usually anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks) I know people who have traveled more, so this is by no means heroic, but in the last 18 months, (including next weeks’ trip to Winnipeg)  I’ll have taken about 14 commercial flights, (counting each leg of any transatlantic trip separately) 2 missionary aviation flights, a few trains and ferries, 6 half or full day motorcycle trips across an African border, a few Uber fares, a number of Canadian and Europe road trips varying from 2-12 hours, and more African car/truck/van/taxi trips than I care to count. For most of that time, I come ‘home’ to a house that is not yet really ‘home’, occasionally wondering when that might change.

Sitting in Canada, in my mom’s palliative care room, while she’s sleeping, I’m been trying to process some of what I’ve discovered during this time frame, and that with a modicum of humor, I hope.

Out of sight, out of mind.
I can’t remember some of the things that I have in the house that I once really thought I wanted/needed. Or, when there is a chance someone could bring them to me, I can’t remember or describe where they are, especially when I’m limited to text messages, or poor phone connections. It’s going to be a huge surprise, if and when I get back to my Africa house, to see what I all have there.

I’m more thankful for small things
I’m giddily thankful for the most hilarious things- like when Elsie gave me a proper dishwashing brush, or I receive a spice that I can’t get in country, or when I realize that the passed-on shoes from my mom actually fit me better than I thought and look good with the two dressier outfits that I brought on this particular trip. When some of your best gifts of the year are a half empty bottle of Cardamom, and new flipper/spatula thingy from a missionary that left the field, and a container of French vanilla cappucino mix from Bulk barn that my best friend sent by missionary mail, it’s rather instructive.

My ‘stuff’ becomes less important
My relationship to my ‘stuff’ has changed. For example, realizing when I need something, that ‘I have that in Ndu’ feeling is gradually becoming a running joke more than a huge frustration. I also am embarrassed to explain to any of my Cameroonian friends the number of kitchen gadgets and utensils in the average Canadian kitchen.

On the flip side, my hoarder tendency has revived.
Right now, if a friend or colleague is giving away or getting rid of something that I might use for teaching at some point or is remotely unusual, or hard to obtain in my current home location in Cameroon, I keep it. I spent 4 years downsizing and getting rid of stuff while my youngest kids moved out from home and before moving to Africa, but now I feel the urge to accumulate all over again, but half of it is completely random stuff.

On a related note…thrift stores in Canada could be my undoing.
Baggage limits are my accountability partner. (I’m proud to say that so far, most of the things I have gotten are actually on my list(s) or are for use here in Canada- but I still have a couple of weeks…)

Being ADHD is both a blessing a curse when you travel a lot.
I forgot exactly what point I had in mind for that. Maybe it will come back to me before I post this.

I actually thrive on change, and love the excitement of travel, but long for some routine.
Whether it’s exercise, personal devotions and Bible study, language study and practise, financial records or writing newsletters, all of these suffer immensely whenever I travel. If I return to a place I have been before, I can often form some new routines in a couple of days, but often I lose a week or more in some or all of these disciplines.

Living on the move unfairly inconveniences women.
I refuse go on a backroad motorcycle trip, or work on a renovation site, in a skirt or dress. But I still need to take more culturally appropriate clothes along for the rest of the time. So that means multiple types of shoes, head gear, and other things to look decent in those settings. NO WAY I can take as little luggage as the men I travel with, including my husband. Related note- quick dry clothes are a God-send for their light weightness and obviously for drying quickly, but are rather cool for some rainy season living.

My fridge gets cleaned more than at any other phase of my life.
Every time I leave town, I have to clean out the fridge, get rid of all perishables, and decide if I need to leave it on and hope for no major power outages, or decide if I have little enough that I can store stuff at a friend’s fridge. Hoarding favorite food stuffs from the capital city in the freezer is NOT a worthwhile risk.

I envy my Cameroonian friend who can got for 2 weeks with one large day pack or a carry on suitcase….sort of.
I’ve become less of a ‘Be Prepared’ Boy Scout type on many trips, but my teaching and out-trippng leadership is too engrained in me to go crazy on that. Besides, there is a certain perverse sense of justification when one of the light packers on my trip needs or wants something I am dragging along, whether medications for headaches or backpain, or jerky and fruit leather for a diabetic when we run behind schedule and there’s no place to buy food. I so far have resisted the urge to say “ I told you so”. Very mature.

I ‘lose’ less things than you might imagine, but ‘misplace’ them more.
I really DO try to have a place for important things, and have routines for things like keys or phones, but honestly, every trip is different and if you use different bags or luggage, modes of travel and types of accommodations, it’s pretty hard to come up with a plan that works in all settings. Which is why I STILL occasionally have the airlines confiscate things from my carry on luggage, because most of the time those I carry all my personal toiletry items in one place, and forget to transfer them into some stupid spot in my checked luggage when I fly. I try to use the ‘Keys/wallet/phone’ mantra every time I get out of my vehicle here in Canada right now, but I slipped up once and locked my keys in my truck last week. Here in Canada, I spend inordinate amounts of time finding or double checking that I DO have my keys/wallet /phone, certain electronic peripherals, or all the various things I need to have for a multi-purpose trip or errand.
My coping strategy-”Don’t look for it, just clean up” has saved my sanity more times than I can imagine- when I implement it, that is- and the errant item is located a remarkably high percentage of times.

So there you have it. Living out of a suitcase is doable, but overrated. I admire nomads, salesmen and itinerant preachers who do this for years on end. I do not have that calling. It has been a growing experience, and when I just get overwhelmed by it occasionally, I am learning to call on my heavenly Father for grace to deal with it. I hope the life lessons I glean from this will seep their way into my soul, so that if, like Jesus, I ever have ‘no place to lay my head’, that I will be OK with it. But in all honestly, I prefer it not come to that.

PS….Important note, please DO NOT reply to this post with suggestions on how I can be more organized in travel, unless they are hilariously funny websites or videos. I might feel compelled to become passive aggressive and deliver my next thrift store donations to your house.

Back to School? The Trickle-Down Effect of the Cameroon Crisis

A large part of this year we have spent in a small city in Adamawa state. It is a nice little city, quite stable.  Languages spoken are mostly French and Fulfulde- except in our quarter, which is where the CBC (Cameroon Baptist Convention) hospital is. Since most of the CBC medical staff are from English Cameroon, we have a large segment of English speakers in the neighborhood

It has now been almost one full year since we left Ndu in Sept 2018 (thinking we would be back inside of a space of a few months).  Cameroon has been in a state of political turmoil/crisis going on almost three years, and we have been here in the country for almost two.

The main methods of protest the separatist have been enforcing fairly consistently within the Northwest and Southwest regions have been Ghost Town days (shutting down of all business and most movement for a minimum of one day per week, often more) and preventing school from functioning – sometimes just disturbing its function and sometimes shutting it down all together. After 3 years of lost education for their children, parents have been becoming more desperate to get their children to school somewhere. Some families have moved to the French regions, but large numbers have simply sent their children to live with family or friends in areas where they can go to school. Recently, after announcing a complete shutdown of school and businesses at least 5 days/week from August 26, for about 3 weeks, people that I knew who were trying to get out before September were simple blocked from leaving at separatist checkpoints.  Here is a link to a recent BBC article on the continued closure of schools in the Northwest and Southwest regions.

The trickle down effect of that, besides the disruption of thousands of families, is that thousands of children are now schooling in other regions. The ones bordering the affected regions have seen a large influx of students into their schools and they are struggling to cope.  No small feat, since a huge percentage of Cameroonian schools are already overcrowded and/or running with class sizes of 2-3 times what we would consider acceptable in North America. The government has told its school it must accept all IDP children, but has not commenced construction of additional schools in many regions that I am aware of.  Here in Banyo, many English speaking families have enroled their children in the Government Bilingual schools, which has minimal school feels and the primary language of instruction is English. The one nearest our quarter is about a 20-30 minute walk away.  They are overflowing with students. Their solution to the population explosion has been to have A and B school. Each one has its own teachers and headmaster, and has classes for about 4 hours each day. In order to make it ‘fair’ they alternate morning or afternoon every week. So while it means they can teach more children, all the students are getting a truncated education.

About three years ago, some parents in this ‘quarter’ of town started a ‘Parent School” and have been using the tiny buildings beside the church (site of the original Baptist  Health clinic here in the quarter of Worrum).20190906_144128

 

The one larger building is also used by the church for children’s church, and is basically one room with plain benches.  The parents were in the process of asking the government to assist and take over the school but it would have not provided much improvement in the short term.  With a recent rotation of new English speaking  hospital staff to the area, a few got wind of this plan and have taken steps to make the school into a CBC school instead, as these parents need places for their children NOW.  Many are relocating from the Northwest, where their children have not had proper school for the last 2-3 years and they want to do whatever they can to help their children catch up.

20190906_144120   

They have great enthusiam for this, but not a whole lot of resources. They are now offering classes 1-6, have hired one returning and two new teachers, set up a managing board. They have successfully raised funds for desks for the class 3-4 and one additional blackboard, probably for class 5-6, which will hold in the church sanctuary for now.  The hospital has been very helpful in helping free up another building for class 3-4, loaning the school their mason and carpenter for this first couple of weeks, and providing bits of this and that when they are able, including a bit of administrative experience.

Enrolment exploded the first day of school, and went from 30 students to almost 100 as of Thursday.  Classes started amidst crazy conditions, and the students I am working with (for a month or two) are excited to see the small changes every day. We started on Tuesday with 22 kids (ending with about 31) crowded into a 3m x 3m metre room  with children sittng 5-6 abreast on 2 metre long plain wooden benches and using ‘armboards’ to write on.  (SO sorry I didn’t get a picture of THAT!!) Wednesday brought the repainting of their chalkboard, Thursday- the arrival of some ‘proper; desks and starting Monday, they will benefit from the tearing down of the wall to double the size of their room and to accommodate (almost) all of their new desks.  Plastering, floor and roof repairs, perhaps even some painting, desks for another clasroom- all are still needed.  But the funds raised for far are mostly at an end now, and although the community hopes to raise more, there is still much to be done to create a conducive (although far from deluxe) learning environment.

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What they are charging for school fees is triple what the parent school did last year, because the teachers were paid next to nothing then, but it’s still well below most of the other ‘private’ schools in the area and less than what is actually needed to run the school and pay teachers the minimum living wage. At 15,000 per year per student for fees (approx $30 US), teachers know they will be continuing to sacrifice their salary to make this school happen.

If you would you consider making a donation to help this school a boost to the (re)launch would be greatly encouraging to them, and get them off to a better start.

Please go to North American Baptist Special Projects page, using this link  ‘Restore a Primary School’  Fund in Cameroon projects. Please indicate ‘Banyo school’ in the special instructions of your donation to be sure we receive the funds here, as quickly as possible. If we raise more money than the maximum  ($1000 per school within the parameters of the project), additional funds will be used by Cameroon Baptist Convention’s education department to direct to other schools needing assistance.  Schools that ARE trying to operate in the English regions have seen their buildings deteriorate, or be detroyed, in the past 3 years of crisis.  Please give this some serious consideration.

You can send your comments or questions here, or you can email me directly if you have my email address.

 

DOE THE NEXTE THYNGE.

20190531_100800I was prepared for some uncertainties when we left for Cameroon 20 months ago. I knew that missions in Africa is not like life in Canada. I knew Cameroon was in a political crisis- which is now described in some circles as a civil war. I knew my mom’s cancer was back and probably terminal.  I knew that the seminary work was only part of what we would be doing and there were a lot of unclear things about what the Fulbe ministry portion of our work would look like. We thought we had some idea of how it would shake out. Boy, were we way off.

I did not imagine that I would be living with maybe a couple of suitcases and boxes worth of our belongings, in a completely different part of Cameroon. Or that we’d find ourselves unable return to our house in Ndu for the better part of a year, with no particular end of the uncertainty in sight. I did not envision the repeated pull of the desire/need to be in Canada due to my mom’s illness.   I did not envision 3 trips to Nigeria in 7 months, but, being unable to get a multiple entry visa, that we would also make multiple trips to Yaounde.  I have packed up, for travel somewhere or other, approximately every 3-6 weeks since May of 2018.

I don’t really have a clear idea what I will be doing 6 weeks from now, never mind 6 months from now.  The unexpected time to work on our Fulfulde language learning has been a blessing, but life has lacked any kind of rhythm or routine that lasts more than 4 weeks because of the frequent travel.  I’ve declined taking on any larger projects here in Banyo in order to maintain our language learning focus, as well as because of the uncertainty of our time here.  Jeff thought he was going to do some extension teaching this summer for the seminary, but that is ‘hanging’. I thought I finally had a plan in the next few months to work with Elsie on some things we’ve been wanting to get to, but that too has recently gone into the ‘ probably not’ pile.

We have done a ton of really amazing ministry things since we left Ndu in September, and I am grateful for that, as many our colleagues have been in a greater state of suspended service that we have.  But as a bit of an obsessive planner/organizer person, this feeling of being a bit adrift has seriously upset my sense of equilibrium and direction, and I am struggling with it all.

A few months back, someone in my mission community posted or shared a link that included a reflection on the thoughts contained in this poem, which helped me then and still encourages me daily. And I have been reading and reflecting on Romans 8 as well, which together have made for an interesting meditation this week (which was maybe a bit multi-faceted, so pardon if there is not just one clear message here).

  “DOE THE NEXTE THYNGE.” (Do the Next Thing)

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message for me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, as it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the hours the quiet words ring,
Like a low inspiration: “DOE THE NEXTE THYNGE.”

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, guidance, are given.
Fear not tomorrows, Child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus. “DOE THE NEXTE THYNGE.”

Do it immediately; do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command,
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all resultings. “DOE THE NEXTE THYNGE.”

Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
(Working or suffering) be thy demeanor.
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm.
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing!
Then, as He beckons thee, “DOE THE NEXTE THYNGE.”

Eleanor Amerman Sutphen

This admonition to just ‘do the next thing’ is not a nod to my ADHD tendency to ricochet from project to project. (Don’t ask me how ADHD and obsessive planner go together- it’s a mystery to me too) It is, among other things, an admonition to stop worrying about whether this or that is God’s will, but to simply see what is in front of you, and IN FAITH, do whatever your hand finds to do.

This seriously flies in the face of what we often hear from the pulpit and in popular Christian books about searching out and knowing the will of God for your life. We feel a need to ‘pray about’ all kind of decisions and wait to ‘hear from God’ whether He wants us to do this or that.  The Biblical pattern is much more mundane than that.  Other than the great commission and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and maybe Paul’s dramatic conversion, most of the early church accounts of the apostles’ decision making process- of what to do or where to go- are simple and  practical (and occasionally even a tiny bit selfish). At best, you will see, as the poem suggests, “Time, opportunity, guidance are given” but only very occasionally will you read about any specific directives from God.  I will ‘do it reliantly, do it with prayer’….but I will DO IT!

God’s overall will for my life has not changed in the 47 years since I became a Christian- it is for me to be ‘conformed to the image of His Son’ and for the fruits of the Spirit to be more abundant in my life. It is for me to serve him with the gifts I have in the place in which I am. According to I Thess 5, it is God’s will that I be joyful, thankful, and prayerful. (All other italicized sections are quotes from Romans 8 NIV)

So I am not currently struggling to find God’s will- I am struggling with aspects of my human nature that are resisting the nature of circumstances I am in. When I ‘put to death the deeds of the flesh’ – in my case, at the moment, these would be complaining, ungratefulness, being controlling, anger – it becomes possible for God to work for the good in my life all of the yucky things I am experiencing. Otherwise, I can quite possibly just be a very grumpy self-centered woman with the spiritual-sounding job description of ‘missionary’ who is NOT exhibiting the fruits of the spirit, and is NOT becoming any more like Jesus at all, and is possibly quite limited in her usefulness for God’s purposes.

So, I am thankfully not struggling under the burden of figuring out “What is God’s will for me to do while here in Banyo?” It is still for me to become more like Christ. I know that I can be more than (a) conqueror in spite of the hardships, and that nothing will be able to separate (me) from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Realizing that the Spirit helps us in our weaknesss…  I pray that I can grasp that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

20190531_091853And while I still need WISDOM to decide where to spend my time, energy and resources, and I can seek out COUNSEL from the Word of God and from those above and around me, with wisdom graciously given as promised by God, and in faith, I will simply DOE THE NEXTE THYNGE.

Infinite Infinitives

Being missionaries, learning the Fulfulde words for prayer was a fairly early acquistion for us. So we’ve known for a long that “waɗa do’a” means pray, and “En gaɗa do’a means ‘let us pray’ or ‘we are in prayer’. (Actually it means to ‘make prayer’, but we’ll leave out that detail for now). But a number of months back, when I started to actually try to make a sentences in prayer, I realized that I needed the word to ask- which is not really the same word you use to ask a question, but to ask for, or plead. So the infinitive form of that – to ask, to plead, (even maybe beg) is toraago. SO…. when I want to say ‘Mi don torro a walla ɓe ekktin wolde ma’ (I am asking that You help them to learn Your word) I have to change the infinitive toraago to don toro, in the continuous tense.  So this means I just have to learn to recognize the root forms of these verbs as they show up and I am on my way.

Simple, right?

Wrong.

Because, (and I think this is what is among the hardest things for me) you have to be able to say and hear the difference between toraago
and torraago (with 2 r’s) which means ‘to suffer’,
AND you need to know how the reflexive -aago verbs conjugate differently from the active ones, because
torrugo means ‘to make someone suffer’.
So AAGGHHH…. I need to careful to say in my prayers:  Mi torete jonta…(I ask you now…)
Or Mi don toro ma jonta… ( I am asking you now)
NOT
Mi don torro jonta!! (I’m suffering now!!)
OR
Mi torrete jonta!! (I will make you suffer now!….Cue evil laugh… Mbwahahaha….)

Some of the way the language connects noun and verbs IS somewhat helpful and fairly logical. If you combine the verb in particular ways with the ending ɓe, then it becomes the people that do that verb (kind of like teachers teach, runners run, workers work, etc, in English). So….
Torotoɓe are people who pray or plead,
and then torrotobe are people who are suffering,
BUT for some reason, you say torroɓe yimbe for people who are making others suffer.
Kay! Mi ɗon torro fahin!! (Aaah! I am suffering again!!)
OR Mbolle ‘de don torrami!! (These words are making me suffer!)

And then while you are trying to wrap your head and ears around that, you realize that the active –ugo verb, taarugo, means ‘to wrap yourself in something’ (like a scarf or shawl)
whereas the related reflexive aago– verb- taaraago -means to gather around, or to make the rounds (like a doctor).

So as that starts to make some sense, you read some more in the book of Psalms and add some more vocabulary words – which sound unfortunately similar.
Turugo means to bend something down,
while turaago means to bend yourself down,
and turnaago means to bow down to someone.  But there’s some relief, because the last one is not actually a different verb, it simply has an ‘infix’ mean to do it to or for someone. (Like an English prefix at the beginning of a word, or a suffix at the end, infixes are in the middle.)
So then turnugo would be used when we to MAKE someone bow down- like when Nebuchadnezzar tried to do that to Shadrach Meshach and Adednego.
But when people bow down to each other, it’s:
Mi don turanomo, o don toranoyam (I bow down to him and he bows down to me)
( I thought it should have been turindirgo,  but apparently they don’t used that infix form with that particular verb. NO idea why not, but that’s the way it is.)
This bowing happens a lot around the laamido’s palace when all the ‘big’ men gather. I saw lots of that yesterday when I went to watch the horses race and parade in front of the palace.

And when one of those big men is rewarded for some achievement, then he might be ‘turbanned’ by the lamido, or have some other head covering granted, so we would say:
O ɗon taaranmo meetalol.

But if you prefer and you’re all confused with all the turo/toora/torra, you cann just use a totally different verb- meetingo.
O ɗon meetamo meetalol.  
I’ll probably go with that one, since I can remember a meetalol easier.

There.

Isn’t language learning fun?

Now I think that I have to get back to language study with Jeff…

Min torrindiri… (We are making each other suffer)

 

Surrounded by Polyglots

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in the spare room doing some sewing. I had the door open for ventilation, and it opens in front of the house, into the compound we share with some other families.

Sonya with Murjanatu

 

I hear the women talking mostly in Fulfulde, but when J comes, who is from Northern Cameroon, and speaks mostly French, they greet her in Fulfulde and gradually switch into a mostly French conversation. But she is reasonably conversant in Fulfulde as well, so when the children ask a question in Fulfulde, she answers it pretty well. Then E, the neighbor’s house help, comes thru the yard on the way to work, and they greet her in Pidgin English.  A short amount of greeting and conversation goes on before E continues on to work, and J goes inside and then the rest go in Fulfulde. Jeff comes by to greet in Fuflfulde and a mixture of regular English and Fulfulde can be heard for a while.  The kids are playing games, chatting and shouting at each other in Fulfulde, but while playing Hide and seek, the countdown is in English.

At my neighbor’s house, I hear a mixture of English, French, German and Fulfulde, as the husband is German and the wife is an American raised in the French and Fulbe parts of Cameroon, and E, their house help, is speaking English, Pidgin, and Fulfulde. 

Language acquisition is a funny thing.  In North America, we are so impressed by people that can speak three languages or more languages, and view them as having remarkable intelligence. The reality is that learning multiple languages DOES activate certain parts of your brain, and the earlier you are exposed to additional languages, the easier they are to learn.   (In a nod to Disney contribution to langugae development….my colleague Lisa, posted on Facebook that she was listening to the kids outside her house, playing and chattering in Fulfulde and Pidgin, untill all of a sudden she heard…”Hakuna Matata…it means no worries!!’ and then a host of giggles and laughs…and a return to Pidgin and Fulfulde.)

So, here I am, in Africa, at the age of almost 56, trying to learn another language- Fulfulde.  And having a durn hard time of it, I must admit. Sometimes, a light goes on, and I suddenly understand something about Fulfulde that was totally escaping me before. Other days, I go over and over the same things wondering why I can’t remember them, and why it is so hard for me to string a sentence together. And then, although I did have a partially bilingual experience at home, sometimes I just get jealous of the people around me who have grown up learning multiple language as a totally normal thing.

Our language Helper, Suleymanu, grew up in a traditional Fulfulde home, and speaks Fulfulde and Hausa fluently. He was sent to Islamic school as a child, where he learned to read the Koran in Arabic (Ajamiya script). He learned to speak English after he became a Christian, mostly making up his mind to learn from hanging around people who spoke English. His English reading and writing are not fantastic, but he worked on them a bit while living with us in Ndu. He is far and away better than us in Fulfulde, that is for sure. He lives in the French part of Cameroon, so is able to converse as needed with the multiple officials at the innumerable checkpoints (immigration, police, Gendarme, customs, vehicle inspections, and who knows what else) asking who you are , where you are going and do you have papers for everything.  The sudden switches in languages are impressive.

Yesterday, I was trying to buy some honey from my friend’s co-op. When no one was there, I called the number he had given me, and got G on the phone. I told her in English who I was, and she told me in Pdigin that she was on the way coming. This can mean anything from she is literally almost there, or simply getting out of her house to start on the way, so I asked her when she thought she might arrive. She then had run out of English, so she started in French, asking me where I was. When I tried to tell her I was at the shop, I was working on “Je suis a la maison de Sammy maintenant” except I think I said ‘suudu’ (Fulfulde for house) instead of ‘maison’, and ‘jonta’ (Fulfulde for now) instead of ‘maintenant’.  Somehow, (in one language or another) I was able to tell her that I would just wait for her, which I did. When she arrived, I was able to tell her in Fulfulde that I wanted one litre of honey, but also asked her why a 5 litre container of honey was more expensive than 5×1 litres. Amazingly, she understood that and explained the price, and I was able to show her that was not what her sign said. She laughed and said it was a mistake. Then I was exhausted and went home and tried to replay the conversation in my head to figure out which language I was actually speaking.

But sometimes I see glimmers of hope.

This past summer, when I returned to Canada, I stopped in Holland for a visit with relatives. Dutch is language of my parents, to which I had a relative amount of exposure, but never had need to master it. But it’s sort of buried in parts of my brain. (except don’t ask me to read or write it)  Although my relatives all speak English (and most of them muktiple other European languages), I work on communicating in Dutch when I am there. Apparently all of this language work in Africa has flipped some switch in my brain, because when I went to church with my cousins, I actually understood enough of the sermon to (sort of) follow what he was preaching on, and I have never understood a Dutch sermon in my life.  That was actually amazing to me.

A couple of days ago, I went to a meeting for our compound. One of the women really doesn’t speak English and and they were trying to decide in which language to conduct the meeting. Suleymanu told them to do it in Fulfulde, as it was good practise for me (Trust your teacher to throw you in the pool) so off they went.   I was not up to asking my questions in Fulfulde, but I am proud to say that I was actually able to follow some of the discussion – enough to only need a few brief English explanations.

I still have a terrible time speaking Fulfulde, but ‘Mi ɗon haɓda. Mi ɗon wolwi seɗɗa seɗɗa”.   I find myself wondering why I didn’t try harder to start on it when we were in Nigeria ten years ago and my brain was ten years younger. But it was confusing for us at first to figure out which language was actually more useful for us to learn in Gembu.   And I had no idea I would be coming back, and would need Fulfulde, but honestly, I should have tried, and encouraged the kids to try more. 

Hindsight is 20/20.

So, suggestion to all of you in North America…..expose your children to other languages. Try to learn another language yourself.  There are multiple ways to learn languages- find something that works for you- but one piece of advice- start talking sooner, rather than later.  You never know where you will find youself at a later stage in life, and learning any other language will help you with any others you want to learn later.

I am beginning to be of the opinion that growing up English speaking, thinking that the world will communicate in our tongue, and that learning another language is ‘unnecessary’, has actually robbed us of a large part of our brain development. It also makes us more than a bit arrogant, and makes our world smaller.   Multiple languages might not have been part of the world when God created it, but we are living with the results of Babel – good and bad- even now.  People appreciate it when we make the attempt to learn their language. I have no idea how far I will ever get in Fulfulde before I retire, but I am richer, and more humble, for having made the effort so far, and trust that God will give me the grace to continue and the discipline to keep working on it.

Sannu. Sey yeeso.

The (Attempted) Making of a (Sort-of) Morning Person

IMG_6443It’s 10 am on a Wednesday morning. So far, I have …..
-cooked breakfast (shaking it out of a box is not an option here)
-baked gingersnaps, roasted ground nuts, made a pan of granola and baked some left over tortillas into corn chips
– did laundry- a batch of clothes, and much more difficult, our comforter
-swept and washed most of the bedroom floor (wasn’t up to the whole move-the-furniture routine this morning)
-swept and washed the screen porch floors and the outside veranda -using the water from my laundry
-turned my compost pile (more correctly- added to it, and cleaned up the mess the chickens had made of the top layers)
-watered my flower beds with left over kitchen water
-searched for some different recipes for my white beans that soaked over night.
-am working on this blog

If this does not seem impressive to you, you either…

  1. Are a horribly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed morning person
  2. Don’t know me at all
  3. Have small children at home who have you up at the crack of dawn all the time

Generally, for my whole adult life, I have not been a morning person. I managed thru university, but arranged some strange schedules to minimize the 8 am classes. I have never developed a taste for coffee, so rarely looked to caffeine for assistance. In my first two years teaching, I was very glad that I did not drive often for our car pool arrangement, because the early hours of our departure combined with the late arrival of the sun during Alberta winters made it questionable whether I would have the cognative abilities to make the split second decisions required behind the wheel on Hwy 2. I could function by the time I got to school 45 minutes later.

During my child-bearing years, my late-night energy cycle meant I was able to get a lot of housework done that was impossible with small children underfoot, and then stumbled around comatose during the wee hour baby feedings. (I was pretty much sleep-deprived for the 8 years that I was pregnant or had children under 2 years of age, so I don’t think being a morning person would have made a difference anyhow.)   I managed to get my four children dressed and off to school on time for 16 years, but if you showed up at my house around then (or even an hour or two later), you would almost certainly meet me in my bathrobe.

Occasionally I have tried to force myself into the proverbial world of the “early to bed, early to rise”, usually without long-term success.  Instead, when jobs required early mornings, I learned to function with less sleep. And, since I am now past menopause, it has, in fact, become worse.  (Anyone who tries to tell a menopausal woman that she just needs to ‘stick to a schedule’ in order to change her sleep schedule, is tempting fate, especially if that same women has not slept well for the last 2 weeks)

Moving to Cameroon, I was determined to try it again. SInce the sun goes down at 6 and comes up at 6 for pretty much the whole year, and we didn’t have power at night for much of the first 4 months, I was convinced my circadian rhythm would adjust and I could move seamlessly into the cycle of those all around me, including my husband.

Anecdotally speaking, I think I must have been doing better, because I was able to be at class in Ndu at 7:30am, actually awake and ready to teach. But, while I love the skylight in our bedroom there, especially during the gloomier rainy season, if I have not been able to sleep til 1 or 2 am, having the sun streaming into my face from overhead at 5:45 does not launch me out of bed in a merry mood.

However, while I was in Nigeria recently, with no power in the house, and limited life to my solar powered lamp, I successfully went to bed before 9 pm, woke up usually only briefly once or twice, and got up regularly at 5:30 am for devotions. I think another factor in this achievement was the high level of physical activity I was doing, since I was walking back and forth across the village sometimes 4-5 times in a day, and working with the contractor at the renovation site, and physical exhaustion is a great sleep aid.

Since they say you can create a new habit if you do something for 29 days, or something like that, I was optimistic on my return to Banyo that this cycle could continue. Alas, it was not to be. And although I have experimented with melatonin, physical activity and exercise, camomile tea and less screen time before bed, I am rarely able to sleep before 10 pm again (or 11 or 12 or 1am) , or, I wake up after a couple of hours and stay awake for 3 or more hours.

So, I am just grateful right now that I don’t have a schedule that requires me to stick to a routine. Instead, I try to make a list (physical or mental) of what I need to do in the morning. If I have to go to market, the list is ready, the shopping bags are in place, etc.  If I have a good sleep, I attack the morning with vigor. If I have almost no sleep, such as a couple of days ago, I do the bare minimum and stumble around in a fog for a day. If I have had a half decent sleep, such as this morning, then the list means I don’t have to think about what needs to be done. I just get up and get started, remembering that doing all these things early is WAY better than during the 31 degree heat of the afternoon.

So, after finishing this blog, which was interrupted by numerous visits, trips to the kitchen for another ginger snap, and a short meeting with my language helper, I am going to check if my laundry outside is dry, make lunch, and work on my language learning stuff until I get tired. Oh – and decide on how to cook the beans and get them started  And then…..I plan to take a nap -when it’s 30 degrees outside and too hot to do anything inside.   And I continue to be glad that I don’t have a 9-5 job.

Lessons from the back of a motorbike.

Recently, while returning from Nigeria to Cameroon by motorcycle, I had 5 or so hours to contemplate a whole host of things. Some of them were serious, or spiritual. Some of them involved rehashing the renovation process for the clinic and the modifications we need to make to the plans before continuing.
And of course, many were just a bit silly.  Understandable, I guess when one is jostled around for that long.

So, after 2 trips in and out of Nigeria and multiple two-hour trips from Madina to Gembu by motorcycle (aka ‘machine’) here are some of my observations:
Things I have learned to do as a motorcycle passenger on a good road….

  • Add credit to my phone; buy a data plan
  • Check my facebook messages and emails.
  • Text and write short messages. Or long ones, if I am patient and wait for the smooth sections of road.

Things I can do on a long haul backroad trip

  • Take selfies, landscape photos and shoot bits of video.
  • Eat a sandwich without removing my full visor helmet.
    Also drink from a water bottle.
  • Stretch my cramped knees 3 different ways that do not concern the driver.    (I now usually now warn them before starting out that I am likely to do this)
  • Readjust my position without bothering the driver by timing it for when we hit a bump so I can come down where I want to.

Other things I have learned about motorcycle travel here:

  • Dressing for long dry season trips is like dressing for a Canadian fall day. You start out with jacket, gloves, sweater, scarf to fend off the cold and the wind in the morning, but you’re stripping layers as the day warms up.
  • A full visor helmet really makes a difference for dust inhalation.
  • I prefer the dust hassles of dry season to the mud hazards of rainy season.img_20180706_093313
  • Keep your toes tucked in close to the bike when on narrow trails. Bad knees or not!
  • A newer Honda 350 has better suspension and more power than most of the older ‘achaba’ bikes on the road.  But the seats are narrower and harder to stay centrered on.  I am apparently now built for comfort, not for speed,
  • 20180919_161618
  • My softsided suitcase/backpack will accommodate my pillow in the back where the straps are hidden. Properly packed behind me, this sometimes becomes a passable backrest – until everything shifts after a couple of hours.
  • You will more frequently encounter a “troubled bridge over water’ here than ‘a bridge over troubled water’.
  • A ‘cattle gate’ up in this area consists of a 2×6 plank over a ditch wherever there is a break in the fence for the bike path. If you’re lucky, there are 2 or more planks.  If you’re not lucky, it’s roughly a 2×4, and the drivers barely slow down to negotiate these. (Hence, no photos)
  • The driver doesn’t get to admire the scenery- but boy, it can be spectacular!

And a few general travel observations:

  • Customs guys are genuinely surprised when you don’t argue about opening your bags to show them your stuff. I could have avoided it with a small bribe, but since he’s getting paid to do the job, why should I pay him to NOT do it? Besides, it gets me off the bike for 15 minutes!!
  • Since I’m one of only a handful of white people in the area, my driver expects me to remember him when I randomly encounter him along a subsequent trip. Same for motor taxi drivers. (Some of the latter ARE quite unforgettable.)
  • Scorched earth policy has a totally different meaning here than in other parts of the world
  • I can never upload pictures to my blog when I want to…..Maybe I’ll be able to add some from this most recent trip later.

Most importantly, I think, when I have a good driver, that I  actually somewhat prefer the motorbike trip to getting bumped around in the truck for twice as long to get somewhere. EXCEPT that then you have no presonal vehicle on the other end, so you get to keep taking motorcycles and other ‘public transport’ for the duration of your visit

And so the experiences continue.

In the Middle of Money Matters

A few weeks ago while discussing some of the economic realities of our Fu*be friends, our language helper suggested that perhaps we ought to offer some help and teaching on managing money and businesses to the commnity we were planning to visit, as this generation in transition has not seen how to do this in their parents. As cattle owners, the Fulbe essentially had a live savings account, and when substantial needs arose they would simply sell a cow. Business among the herdng Fulbe was simple- men bought, sold and looked after cattle; women sold the milk.  Budgeting, capital, stock, inventory, saving, investing….all were foreign concepts they had no interest in or need for.  The proceeds of a sale of a good sized cow would generate something like $600-$800, a sum which is now just about equal to the value of the entire corn harvest of  their children and grandchilren, who are now depending on subsistence farming to support themselves.

We accepted the challenge, and once the community took us up on our offer,  I began to wrestle with how to adapt my usual teaching on budgeting etc for a subsistence farming, largely illiterate crowd.  We travelled out to the community a couple of days after Christmas and Jeff and I shared about 8 hours of teaching of a godly view of money and giving, basic budgeting, a few simple business principles, and a long discussion on how they might improve their farming.  We did have a lot of fun with it and God was gracious to give us a few inspirations that allowed the material to connect with the people. I had a lot of fun drawing pictures of my budget envelope categories on the chalkboard rather than writing very much, and our audience had fun figuring my poor artwork out.  Questions and discussions indicate that although we couldn’t cover everything, and have more work to do on this, people understood how these principles could make a difference for them.  But I couldn’t shake the feeling that even if they applied the budgetting principles extremely diligently, the contents of their budget ‘envelopes’ was woefully inadequate for many of the basics of life.20181229_165021

In the middle of this, we had a head-on confrontation with the reality of one of the budget ‘envelope’ categories- medical expenses and emergencies.  Suleymanu got a request around 4 am Saturday morning to come see and pray for a little girl. She had been taken to the hospital earlier that day, diagnosed with fairly serious malaria, (for toddlers it can get serious pretty quickly) and medications dispensed. However around 4 am she started seizing and shaking.  Suleymanu prayed for her and told the family that although he was no doctor, he was pretty sure that they really needed to take her back to the hospital.  We found out around noon, when we broke from the morning session, that they had not done so. So we went to see her, and I modified their technique for cooling her body, managed to get a dose of fever medication (liquid Paracitemol) into this semi-conscious child, Jeff prayed for her again, and he and Suley prepared to take the family back to the hospital.   We were pretty sure at that point in time that the reason that they had not taken her back in the morning was that they simply had no more money.  So Jeff dipped into our benevolent fund, and gave the father 20,000 cfa (about $50 Cdn) for fees when he left them there.  After returning and resting a bit, we finished our 3 pm afternoon teaching sessions, happy for their understanding but wishing that I could do more.

Early on Sunday morning we heard singing and wailing, and by breakfast time we heard that the little girl had died in the middle of the night, and the family had brought her body back and were preparing her for burial.  We were extremely saddened, although not terribly shocked, given the child’s condition when she was taken back to hospital.  But as I packed and prepared for a low key departure, to get into my nice Hilux truck and go back to my fairly comfortable temporary ‘home’ in Banyo, I felt a familiar twinge of guilt. I took a few minutes to read my Bible on my phone and decided to check Facebook as well. I found this post shared by Susie Hohn,  Meet Me in the Middle which does an excellent job of articulating this tug of guilt and joy while serving in the ‘two thirds world’ and how debilitating it can be if we don’t learn to manage it. I have saved her post in my facebook because I think I might have to read this a few more times. And as friends and supporters, I suggest you read this post as well.

As I sit here writing this, I am eating some corn chips made by Elsie’s househelp that I splurged on while in Bamenda.  I felt similar conflicted feelings whether to enjoy it or cringe. I am simuntaneously proud of being able to whip up 3 jars of homemade salsa for the grand total of $2, feeling cranky about not being able to get good sour cream, frustrated that I couldn’t make proper guacamole because I couldn’t figure out how to ask for limes in the market, and cringing because the $4 cost of this yummy bag of chips would have paid for a pound of beef, vegetables and corn enough for a fairly deluxe large family meal for many of our friends here.   I turn up the music on my (very nice) computer so that I can drown out the sound of the mice/rats scurrying around in my attic and contemplate her words…
So, I don’t have this battle won, but I think the answer is learning to live well within the “middle” rather than fighting it. Those of us who live in the “middle” aren’t comfortable on either side anymore, but that is exactly where God has placed us.  So, we continue to feel the discomfort, the pain, help the hurting, cry with and sacrifice for those in need, fight for contentment in our own need.  When we are there on that side of our “middle ground”, in those moments, we need to be all there and not looking to the other side.  Let’s not compare or justify or defend or run or allow guilt to overrun.  Enter into pain and allow ourselves to hurt with those who are hurting, weep with those who are weeping and find contentment in loss and in need or in abundance.”

Meanwhile, I’ve finished my quota of chips, and am preparing to go early tomorrow on another extended trip to a village, and I pray that I can take this tug-of-war to my heavenly Father and be ‘all there’ where I am going.

Kinda like a REALLY big shoe box…

Well, November is past, so this marks the second year I have not packeocc-logo-120x101d an Operation Christmas Child shoe box. I had been doing it ever since the first year they started it in Canada, doing it with my family, as a church, and in the community. It has been a  wonderful sharing tradition, and while it has its detractors, I believe God has used the generosity of many to reach many children and their parents with the Gospel. I loved the fun of finding good deals and cool items that would be appropriate for kids of various cultures, or organizing the most efficient way to pack a whole bunch of boxes. I loved praying for the boxes as we sent them off, knowing that receiving an unexpected gift from an unknown donor can open a heart to the unexpected, undeserved love of God.

image001The same holds true for humanitarian aid in the medical field, and I have been proud to be involved in White Cross for as long as I have been involved with the North American Baptists. White Cross is a Christian humanitarian organization that provides medical supplies and relief goods to hospitals, health centres and rest houses in West Recipients-Central_PharmacyAfrica, with a primary focus on Cameroon. After moving back to Alberta where the Canadian headquarters are, I got more involved with this arm of the NAB medical ministry, and it seems that I have just changed the size of the boxes I want to fill!! These supplies are an important facet of CBC hospitals, health centres and ministry where we now serve in Cameroon, and I am proud to be a part of it. (You can click the link above for more info).

IMG_6030

This year wFriendsoftheFulbeSociety1e have a very special packing project on our radar screens. We are helping launch a Fulbe medical team in Nigeria. We’ve been involved, through FFS (Friends of the F*lbe) in helping train a doctor, nurse, and practical nurse over the last number of years and are excited to be on the cusp of launching them into medical ministry. Since NAB is unable to ship White Cross to Nigeria at this time, FFS is partnering with GECHAAN, another Baptist mission agency in Nigeria, to facilitate shipping a container of medical and other humanitarian items thru Lagos and up to the plateau. It is our goal to ship this container of supplies in January, and we could use your help. If you live in Alberta or have a way to get items to Edmonton by early or mid January, (like online ordering?)here is what we would like to add to our REALLY BIG (SHOE) BOX!  If you have something to bring, please reach out to Bernie or Bert, whose numbers are included on the lists.

  • We have a list of medical items we have not been able to source affordably. Alberta has changed the way it deals with its surplus medical items, and it has been more difficult than we hoped. If you have connections to the medical field, perhaps you could click on this medical list and see if you see any items you can help us locate.
  • There are a large number of practical non-medical items we would like to add to the container such as lockable totes, small whiteboards/bulletin boards, lockHD toteers, etc. that would be helpful for either the mobile clinic or for the inpatient facility being planned. If you can look over the non-medical wishlist, you might have some quality used items to donate, or perhaps you would like to purchase some of these things new for us to send. There’s a few education related things on that list, too, if you wonder at some of the items…
  • pliersWe are sponsoring some apprentices in things like carpentry, masonry and sewing, and nd quality tools are hard to get. A basic hardware store hammer, hand saw, or pliers are often better than anything they can get here. A half-decent multi-tool is a lifesaver, and very few tradespeople has a suitable bag or box for their tools. Decent sewing scissors are hard to find, and seam rippers, pins and extra bobbins are a luxury for the starting tailor or seamstress. Start up packages for an apprentice would be fun mini-boxes to include in the container.
  • (If we get too many for our own use, GECHAAN, our mission partner can use them for their AIDS orphan apprentices.) We’ve included some details on that same non-medical list.
  •  If you are aren’t close enough to donate items, and/or are interested in supporting this ministry with a cash donation, please see the medical ministry brochure for details as to how you can give.Thanks for reading this and for considering helping out with our REALLY BIG SHOE BOX!!  I know you are all inundated with end of the year appeals, so I apologize for adding to the list. But this container is a one-time shipment, and January is coming up quick so I had to at least ask.
    Whatever you do, have a very Merry Christmas, and enjoy sharing all your boxes, whatever size they may be.

The Lights of a Packrat

OK, so I know that I’ve always been a bit of a packrack (My children are rolling their eyes as they read this and saying, “A bit?!?!?”)  But as I packed up for moving to Cameroon, I had to limit what we brought, what we put into our limited storage, and REALLY tried not to foist a bunch of junk onto my kids.  And I thought that living in Africa might continue promote a more minimalistic lifestyle.  HAHAHAHA! Well, it does in its own way, I guess. But in what I consider emergency preparedness, I can’t seem to help myself.

lights

So here is just the light collection saga.  When I was camping and out-tripping in Canada, for numerous weeks per year, I had one Petzel headlamp (second from the left). It served me for about 10 years of trips, plus roadside car repairs and at-home power outtages, with about 2 sets of good batteries for that whole time.  It DID occur to me to go to Cameroon with just that, but I decided….NOT!!  Frequent use walking the house and campus in Ndu seems to have strained it and on this last trip, I thought it had died. New batteries worked briefly (after a three week search for AAA’s that lasted more than 20 minutes), but then it failed again.  But I couldn’t very well throw it out, so I dragged it all around Nigeria (not working) in the bottom of my bag, and it made it back to Banyo with me.  Frustrated to not have a hands-free light for over a month, I tackled it this morning with the help of some internet advice. I cleaned the contacts with VINEGAR! And it works!! Still a bit touchy to operate, so I haven’t solved the problem completely, but I am optimistic.  Test use tonight has proved it so far – packrats score again!

Before leaving Canada I was advised to buy a good rechargeable LED lamp. Well, technology has changed, and the new power source in North America is USB /power banks, so I got a few things. I bought a Nite Ize lamp (second from the right). It lasts quite a long time, and charges with a mini USB input. It also has an output port, so in a pinch, I can charge my phone from it too.  Disadvantage- it is REALLY bright, even at the lowest setting, and is most comfortably used when you can hang it up so the light shines in a way that doesn’t blind everyone. Because of that, it lives in its little bag for long period of time when we travel, unless there is a convenient nail, hook or twig to hang it from near the ceiling.   At home in Ndu it lives on top of the cabinet in the dining room, where it cast the best light when the power (frequently) goes out.
I also engaged in an impulse buy at MEC in Canada and bought this super-cool lid for my Nalgene (far right) that has a light, solar panel and glow-in-the-dark silicone ring around the lid.  I haven’t needed a night light with much frequency between my children’s graduations from kindergarten and my move to Cameroon, but this is now my defacto water bottle, night light and bedside lamp, as well as a great conversation piece in the villages where they love anything solar powered. Being normally used in Canadian summers where it is light til 10 or 11 pm, its one minor downside is that it doesn’t shine very well as room lighting from 6-10 pm here. That minor problem is overshadowed (pun intended) by the much worse fact that the lid doesn’t seal very well. So it’s good in my room but not great in my truck, or backpack, or knocked over on the bedroom floor. And although I still have the original Nalgene Seal with me, it’s a pain to carry around to change, so I rarely do.  But I still use the bottle-with-lid-light a ton, and live with its various disadvantages, because of its day-to-day convenience, the ‘cool’ factor and the way it saves my shins and Jeff’s sleep during my nocturnal sojourning.

I have a couple of USB power banks, two of which are gifts, that get used for charging phones, some ofthese lights, and a host of other little things I never anticipated. The third power bank is a massive 4.5 pound thing I bought for my laptop computer, and I save it for charging computers when off the power grid for a long time. ‘Cause ‘off the grid’ here doesn’t usually mean no cell network- just no electricity in the houses. So we are still expected to use phone, text, email, Messenger, Facebook, What’sApp, etc., and have phones and SIMs for multiple networks to facilitate this in multiple scenariors.  An additional power bank that was gifted to me last year with one of the others, was passed on to an evangelist friend of ours. He really wants my solar charger panel with the USB ports, since the ones here are of questionable quality, but I am drawing the line there.

Coming back thru more populated parts of Cameroon this week, I was at a Total fuel station, and my eye fell on one of the D-lights they sell across the country, and which are really quite impressive and actually come with a warranty. (Although I haven’t found anyone that’s tested that warranty.) I used one of Lisa’s in the village last month, and thought I should own at least one good solar powered lamp.  I decided against the bigger one which has a few other features I didn’t need (USB port, I think). So this one (far left), at $16 Cdn equivalent, looks a bit like my Nalgene but you CANNOT put water in it. THAT much is specific in the instructions. (What else you would want to put in the screw open top container, I have no idea! It’s low power and heat so I don’t think I can try drying anything inside- but you never know….)
Note to you all, if you’re coming to Cameroon or other African countries, see what they have  readily available before buying anything solar in North America. Some things here are really very good and reasonably priced

Oh yes, as a camp leader in Canada I spurged once and bought a miniMaglite. That one seems to be missing at the moment, but it’s probably in Ndu on the shelf by the front door.   And my smart phone (obviously) also has a flashlight app- which I’ve used 70% of the time that my Petzel wasn’t working.

Jeff has one little LED light flashlight he’s used all year so far…….I think he might be due for new batteries soon.  I just hope they are not AAAs.