May 29, 2013
Ralph – Things I miss from home:
- Our daughters and family
- Our friends in Gayville/Bergen
- Comfortable furniture
- John Taylor
- Brewed coffee
Things I will miss from Cameroon:
- Dancing in the aisles
- Seminarian friends
- Pastor Timothee especially, and other friends
- Drums in worship
Barbara – Things I miss from home:
- Our daughters, grandchildren, family and friends
- The churches in Gayville and Bergen and church bells
- Sleeping without mosquito nets
- Drinking water from the tap, constant running water and hot water
- Constant electricity and internet
- My bed
- Sleeping and waking without Muslim chanting and lectures on the loud speakers
- Luxuries – air conditioning, laundry washer and dryer, television, stereo, freezer
- Central time so I can talk on the phone to my daughters
- Spring in the US, April and May, planting my garden, spring flowers
Things I will miss from Cameroon:
- Friends from Cameroon, Timothee and Mancini, Philomene, Robert, the Directorice, the many wives and women I have met
- Seminarians singing in the chapel
- Music from everywhere, even Muslim chants when they are softer
- Mysterious night insect, bird, animal sounds and songs
- Views from the hills in Mieganga, and driving between Ngoundere
- Flowering trees and bushes everywhere
- Cattle Egrets on the lawn
- Geko lizards
- Bird songs I have never heard before
- Ripe mango
- Dancing and drums in church
- Choirs and congregational singing
- Babies nursing and children everywhere
- Women is beautiful long dresses
May 22, 2013
Malaria and lizards
Timothee was here this evening (Wed) and told us that Oysten (3 years old) had malaria. It’s not his first time. He’s being treated for it and will be fine.
We have heard in these recent weeks about so many cases of malaria, 2 or 3 seminarians have had it since Easter, as have a couple of Peace Corps workers we know. Other folks we’ve come to know have told us about particularly children who have been hospitalized for days with malaria.
Sometimes it’s complicated by cholera or typhoid. I’ve seen many 1-year-olds and infants who have a persistent cough. Goiters abound, especially in older women.
Few people can afford to see doctors, so treatable conditions go untreated, sometimes for too long, sometimes forever. There are some people who are nearly incapacitated with problems which could be treated or assisted in the US. We often see a man on the road whose legs are deformed. He scoots on his hands and his seat as he moves in the red dust. I don’t know where he comes from or where he goes. I think his sole support comes from begging.
There is an old blind woman who comes to our door many days, led by a young boy. They beg for food. I’ve wondered where they live and what relation is the boy. Since he is always with her, it is likely he lives with her and that she is his sole support. Beggars are looked down upon by most people, and begging is not an easy way to make a living. But for some, it’s the only living they can make. What will become of the boy when the old woman is gone I guess depends on his resourcefulness and the Christian kindness of many people who take in these orphans.
This morning (Thur), Mancini came with Oysten to visit, and he is doing fine.
So what do lizards have to do with malaria? Not much really, but whenever I see one spread-eagle on the wall in that characteristic lizard outline, 4 legs, head and tail, or see them in the windowsill, or perched on the edge of a shelf, or scurrying across the floor, I think “You are a fine house guest. Eat those mosquitoes.
May 18, 2013
Visits from Seminarians (by Ralph)
Pilomene, one of the two women in the seminary, will graduate this June. She remembers Pastor Trish from her visit in 2009. Philomene has come to our house a lot and a great help to Barbara in getting things done regarding the sewing program. She has a husband who is also graduating this June, and they have a 3-year old son. She speaks fair English and attends the English class. She is planning to come to Winnipeg, Canada in August for a 3-month stay to work in the church there. Then she will return to Cameroon and either continue studies for a master’s or work as an intern in Yaounde until she is ordained in 2 years when she will begin serving as a pastor.
Rachel, the only other female student came with 3 wives of seminarians just to visit. We have not visited with her a great deal, but she does come to English class occasionally. Robert has been around a great deal and has helped me (Ralph) find copying machines in the market, did translation for me at Beka, and in chapel. He is a very warm, helpful person who has been closest to Ralph.
He will graduate in June and get married, also in June. He asked me to sit in on his thesis defense, which I did. He got the highest marks ever received at this school. Barbara heard the students cheering from the house when his scores were announced in the seminary.
When I was at Beka for the Ebere Region Synod meeting, the equivalent of a synod assembly, Robert and I walked together past the “bookstore” (a series of blankets spread on the lawn, with books and pamphlets for sale.) Robert said he would love to have a Bible in his native language, but he didn’t have the money ($10). He has the Bible and I was honored to provide it.
I was really moved by the visit of Adjia Marius. He is in his first year of seminary studies. His first question was what I would do if my family did not approve of my coming to seminary. His family members are all in government, meaning that they had good paying jobs, and they wanted the same path for Marius. When he decided to become a pastor, they cut him off and refused to give him any help. We talked about the calling, the work and the life of a pastor, and he left being assured that there are reasons for things and that God will work his way through us.
Other students come, some few needing something, but many wanting to learn English. Barbara has considerable contact with the wives of seminarians around sewing projects which she will tell you about.
As we come to the end of our time here, I am finding the contact with seminary students among the most satisfying of our new relationships in Cameroon.
May 17, 2013
Ralph came out of the shower today and asked, “what’s the weather forecast for today?” Barbara answered “Warm, humid, with a chance of rain.” No need for a weather man here.
Where we are in north-central Cameroon, the altitude is about ½ mile or so. That means we are on a fairly high plains. For 5 months, it’s very dry here, the ground is very hard, and when we arrived things were pretty brown.
The rains began in the middle of March and has continued with usually short rains about every other day, usually in the late afternoon. Winds blow hard for a while, there there is a drenching downpour with lightening and thunder for ½ hour or so, maybe some lighter rain off and on over the next couple of hours. Some days it rains all day and then everything is damp including the clothes your are wearing. But so far those days have been few. Many days are pretty sunny all day long.
Everything is very green now. The fields are up and everyone works in the fields on Saturday here in town. We don’t have thermometers, but the days may be mid 70’s to 90’s in the daytime and 60’s to 70’s at night.
In northern Cameroon (Maroua) it’s hot, but it’s closer to desert. In southern Cameroon we find rain forest with as much as 30 feet of rain per year. In Maroua when the rains come, there have been devastating floods in recent years, with considerable loss of life.
When we were in Bouba Njida park for safari with June and Phil Nelson, the heat was sometimes in the 115 and above range with extreme humidity. This was the hottest we had experienced here.
So Cameroon does have quite a range of weather. Meiganga seems to be fairly temperate and we are glad to be here.
May 15, 2013
Chicken and Theology
Well I knew it would probably happen at least once before we left. We have a live chicken in our kitchen. Its legs are tied, so it is fairly quiet, and Ralph put it in a box after it made a mess on the floor. Ralph is convinced we will eat it. I suggested a reprieve of giving it to someone for its eggs, but he said its destiny would probably be the same anyhow. Ralph is hungry for chicken, and it was a gift to him from his last trip with Bishop Jean Marc and Timothee, so it is his decision.
I’m just not killing or cleaning it.
We have a local man named Adolph who comes two half days to clean and iron. Adolph came with the house. He wanted us to hire him full time, as the Norwegians had done when they lived here. But we have never had anyone do cleaning or housework for us before and there is less to do here. So we hired him for 2 half days and pay him for half time. He irons the rest of the clothes which we do not leave 3 days before wearing. It is necessary to either iron everything or wait 3 days to be sure the mango fly eggs are dead in the dry fabric so they do not burrow into our skin. It takes longer for clothing to dry on the line now that it is much more humid and rains more often. I really appreciate the fact that he mops the floors twice a week too. The red African clay is buried deep into the cement and we track it in daily even though we have indoor and outdoor shoes.
We have asked Adolph to kill and dress the hen. Ralph wants to bake it in the oven. We will see what works best. I’ve never killed a chicken, though I remember my parents killing one when I was a child. My Dad chopped the head off and then it ran around the yard headless. Maybe I will watch this chicken meet its end, and maybe not.
I heard the chicken clucking loudly and then it stopped, so Adolph must have just killed it. I peeked into the kitchen and he is plucking feathers in the sink. I think I will clean the sink with bleach solution when he is done. This is all very new to me. I wonder if there are any precautions we need to take? Adolph is now gutting it, and Ralph wants to put it in the gas oven and cook it with a honey glaze. Hmm! I guess that is all there is to it. Adolph is cutting it into pieces, and Ralph put it into a covered bowl in the refrigerator to keep until we cook. This will be ok for a couple of hours I hope as we have electricity at the moment. Oops! Adolph put the chicken into the pot of boiled water I had cooling on the sink. We are now boiling water for 10 minutes before drinking or cooking since the water filter broke. I will dump that and clean that up too. So now we will go to the market to buy a few groceries before cooking dinner.
Around 6:00 pm we received guests. Wilson, a court official and former baker, returned to ask Ralph some theological questions: “How can God be both Alpha and Omega? How can God be three persons and yet one Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Why does God allow suffering especially the suffering of Jesus?” Simple things like that. Ralph had tried to discuss these questions earlier, but his French and Wilson’s English could not hold the complexity of the topic. So he returned and Ralph invited a seminarian pastor to translate. Timothee turned up about then for his regular visit and three pastors with Wilson discussed the complexities of theology in a combination of English, French, and maybe even Gbaya.
I cooked the chicken. The discussion continued until 7:30 and the honey-mustard chicken was getting past ready. I made curried rice, cut some cucumber Timothee brought from his garden, bread from the bakery, and a pineapple. It turned out to be a nice meal. Our humble chicken served illustrious guests for a rather lofty discussion.
April 29, 2013
Beka & SD Mission Builders
On April 17-21, I attended the Adamoa Regional Synod in Beka. It’s the equivalent of the Synod Assembly in SD. There was an opening worship on Wed. afternoon. Then there was sitting, reports, sitting, agendas, sitting, discussions, sitting, visiting bishops, sitting, sermons, and more sitting. There was a bookstore (a few books and some church and office supplies spread on a mat on the ground.) There was a demonstration of yam growing. There was a presentation by exchange pastors, some singing, some offerings, quite a lot of rain and some more sitting.
We were hosted by local residents. The women who hosted Pastor Tim and me were unbelievably gracious. They moved to the kitchen so that Tim and I each had our own room. They provided all our meals, and even washed some clothes and our shoes. They provided hot water for washing in the enclosed bath area outside and did all they could to make us comfortable.
The local chief came and greeted us every morning. I think my being the only American around was the reason.
And then there were the neighbor children, refugees from Central African Republic…One little boy kept coming just to see me, and we ended up playing games with fingers – slap the finger, etc. He was fun.
I was told that a nearby village that wanted me to visit before I went home. It was just west of Beka and was on our way home. The village is Gankobol. We stopped on Sunday afternoon. There were a few people out by the road waiting and they led us, singing, all the way back to the church building.
This building was built in 1998 with the help of a team of Mission Builders from South Dakota. The villagers had lost all contact with the Americans and wanted me to help locate them.
They showed me the underside of a table that the South Dakotans had signed. I recognized one name immediately, Val Parsley. There is a Val Parsley on Cathy Larson’s distribution list for this letter. Is it possible that she is one and the same? Wow!
But the names that really brought me up short were those of Connie and Paul Larson. I told the folks in the village about Paul’s ministry in the parish where I now serve, about his graciousness and dedication to the church and to the people of the world. I told them that Paul died recently, Connie a little earlier. I told them that they were blessed to have Paul & Connie in their presence, if only for a short time.
What started out as an interruption of an eagerly awaited trip back home to Meiganga, became a moving experience of a deeper home and a witness to the presence of God in our people.
April 25, 2013
Every morning the seminary community gathers at 7:50 for morning prayers. There are songs, often vigorous, with drums. Everything is in French. A student leads worship and offers a meditation, prayers of intercession are offered and then the dean makes announcements. There is usually someone there who will translate for me. The service lasts about 30 minutes. Some of the students have already had a class from 7:00-7:50 in the morning. (Barbara adds, Ralph usually goes. I like the quiet time for morning prayer, and I can enjoy the music from the house. Yesterday they sang “Nearer My God to Thee” – Beautiful”)
Food here for us has been a mixed story. The staple for most people is cassava or manioc, a starchy tuber used widely in South America, Asia and Africa. It is the stuff from which we make tapioca. In this area it takes two years for the plants to mature, but in wetter parts of the country it only takes one year. Cassava is dried in white chips (you see it spread in the sun for sale along the road), ground into and flour, and cooked into cous-cous. It’s like taking wheat flour and boiling it in water until it becomes a sticky, stiff gelatin. (It looks like bread dough.) It is served with a sauce that may or may not have some meat. A big ball of cous-cous will be put on your shallow bowl along with some sauce. The Africans then eat with their washed hands, rolling some of the cous-cous into a ball, indenting it with the thumb, and then dipping the entire piece into the sauce and collecting some in the center of the indentation before popping it into their mouths. They realize that we Americans are not as handy as they, and they nearly always offer a fork and/or a large spoon. Sometimes the cous-cous is made of corn or had corn meal added which gives it more of a corn meal texture and taste.
Sometimes we buy potatoes, yams (white potato-like in taste), pasta, rice, beans or plantains (all available at the market in Meiganga.) The plantains have the most flavor and are very good. They are either boiled, or fried just like potatoes, and can be very sweet if they are particularly ripe. White bread is available on the street via vendors or a couple of bakeries that bake some really wonderful bread we buy whenever we can.
The sauce is a tasty gravy with some chicken (the most expensive), beef, fish or some other meat. A very common base for the sauce is a ball of ground peanuts, much like peanut butter. We have not purchased raw meat in the market yet, but use the ground peanut balls, or canned tuna or canned ham with beans and lentils for a sauce base. We have also used mushrooms in season – wonderful. The biggest change in our diet has been not eating much meat.
Many people eat bush meat. This can vary according to the small animal captured. Barbara thinks she had wild boar with wild mushrooms at a dinner Ralph missed when he was with the Bishop one Sunday. Ralph has a story about bush meat. “When I was traveling with Bishop Nyiwe, an animal crossed the road, and I asked what that animal was. He said it was a cerval (a cat about the size of a bobcat with long legs). The Bishop said “That is very good to eat.” I said “Do you hunt them? He said “No we hit one with our car. We put in the back of the car and took it home and ate it. It was very good.” When Pastor Tim was in Gayville, he laughed at the many squirrels and rabbits running the houses. He said they would not last long in Africa. They would make good bush meat.
They sell beef bouillon cubes and fresh herbs, especially basil, parsley and celery. Often the sauce contains tomatoes, onion, garlic, or ginger on greens similar to spinach, green peppers, okra, and carrots. I really like to load up the vegetables in our sauce.
Some fruit here is wonderful. We’ve had some of the best pineapple ever. It doesn’t come from here but from warmer areas in the north or the south. We’ve had great mangos. Their texture and taste is close to that of a peach.
Eggs are available here, and we’ve had omelets, boiled eggs, fried eggs, French toast with honey and frittatas. Last night we made egg salad sandwiches with lettuce from Pastor Tim’s garden, and a salad of sliced cucumbers, onion and tomato. (The eggs are brown on the outside, but the yolks are white!)
We’ve eaten very well here, and when we’re guests eating at someone’s home, the food is always more than we can eat. But the normal day for many Africans may include only one or two meals, mainly of cous-cous. There are hungry people here. A very old blind woman lead by a young boy comes here to the house about once a week to beg for food. We always give her something easy to eat and they are both very grateful. We have wondered about the connection between them. Is he her grandchild, an orphan, or a neighborhood boy? Since they are always together, we are speculating he lives with her and may be an orphan. There are many orphans here since the families are all large and life expectancies are rather short. Most are raised by other family members or picked up by neighbors. Pastor Tim has raised several of his brother’s children after the parents had died.
One last story. Ralph says that he thinks it is an incongruency that in this country where there are many hungry people, there’s a man who on many mornings shows up at our door with fresh, hot doughnuts (doughnut hole style, about 3 inches in diameter, called Beignetts) They are about 8 for $1.00, and can be dipped in sugar or peanut sauce. This is one of the few desserts we have seen aside from frozen yogurt which is very popular too, and is also sold by street vendors in small plastic packets from a huge bucket carried on their heads.
Well, that’s it for today. Next installment alarm clocks and weather.
April 23, 2013
They Call Us Sud Dakota
Shortly after we arrived here at the seminary in Meiganga, I thought I heard the word Dakota coming from the local guards when they called each other or had loud discussions at the cistern across the block. I thought certainly they would not be discussing us that much and the word I am hearing must be a common Gbaya or French term they used often. Certainly I was being paranoid. Then I thought I even heard the children saying it as they gathered mangos in the tree in front of the house. I must be really losing my mind and becoming very paranoid, or that is really a common term. Then one day Mancini came to the house to escort me to visit their garden. As we were leaving our porch, she called to a neighbor working in her garden. The neighbor looked up and returned the greeting, both probably in Gbaya. Then, very clearly, she waved at me and spoke in French, “Bon jour, Sud Dakota.” So it was true. But now it felt like a welcome, a name of fondness, and I was not paranoid. They call us South Dakota.
April 15, 2013
Barbara here. Sorry I had to write a brief note. It is a beautiful morning and I am reminded of a Wallace Stevens poem, “The Red Wheel Barrow.” Here is my Cameroonian version: “Nothing is more beautiful than the white egret, on the wet spring grass, beside the red azalea.” I know I will be envying you in May, which is my favorite month there.
Message from Ralph:
It’s my turn. I’ve been remiss, and I apologize. Barbara has been carrying the load pretty much of communicating with you all at home. And she has been doing that very well. But I need to tell you what’s in my eyes these days. There are many things that surprise, amaze or interest me every day. There are little goat dramas that happen in our yard, constant streams of children stopping to check out the mangos in the trees around the house. Bishop Zellmer encouraged me before we left to see if Phil and June Nelson, ELCA mission contacts here wouldn’t take us to their favorite game park. That will happen the first week in May. I’m glad for that.
But the real story that’s unfolding for us is not about the animals or about the sporadic water or power. It’s about the people and the church. I accompanied Bishop Nyiwe and one of his staff to what is essentially a synod assembly in the North Region (one of 4 regions). On the way home we participated in ground-breaking services at two congregations. To describe this church in any simplistic way would be very misleading. There is in some places and in some people some real joy. Music is such a big part of that. It’s great to be in the presence of that joy.
But there are serious challenges here too, and that takes some, maybe a lot, of joy out of the church life here. There is some dissension in this church which is tribal in origin, but which then becomes personal. There are the difficult questions that naturally come to a new church. How do we encourage congregations to pay pastors and evangelists? How do we keep evangelism as a top priority while we develop internally? How do we make decisions together as a church? How will we in the church, deal with money, privilege, service, community and personal health, etc.?
Maybe these issues are similar to those our ancestors in the upper Midwest faced 100 or 150 years ago. They lived in similarly difficult circumstances, trying to survive on a very little, with perhaps a simpler list of needs. I’m trying to figure out what our presence here means to these people. There are certainly many here who look to Americans (and Europeans) to provide things that are lacking here. While we are not wealthy by American standards, we certainly are by African standards. We share what we can, but our resources are limited. I have been received here as a “man of peace” coming to bring hope to a church in struggle with itself. Sometimes this notion is expressed before I’ve even said a word, which makes me think it’s a wish or a hope on the parts of those who say it. Whatever the reason, I like the idea and I don’t want to screw it up.
Some have referred to me as a Missionary. That term took me aback at first, but now I’m becoming accustomed to the notion, but with qualifications. If what is meant by “missionary” is someone who comes from elsewhere, especially from a “parent” church, who brings a message: “You are not alone. God is with you. We are with you. It will all be OK.”, then count me in.
What more do we need?
April 5, 2013
The national Cameroonian Bishop of the EELC is coming to our house in Meiganga this afternoon at 3:00 pm, Bishop Nyiwe. That’s like Bishop Hanson coming from Chicago, only in Cameroon the Bishops carry an awesome authority. Also they have ceremony here in Cameroon which I don’t know very well. What should I wear, traditional western clothing or Cameroonian? Should I serve something besides coffee? Timothee says you always offer a guest food no matter the time. How should I prepare the house? I think a housewife is expected to brush the leaves off the gravel sidewalk as well as the porch as part of a well kept home. Wouldn’t want the bishop to think I’m sloppy. What else don’t I know?
I tackle the sidewalk and porch first while it is still cool out. The children have been poking at the big mango tree in the front yard. They take huge bamboo poles with giant hooks and try to pull the fruit from the top of the tree. As a result there are leaves and half eaten fruit on the walk. No need to mow the lawn. The dozen or so goats are keeping the new grass in perfect condition.
Now what to eat? I boil some eggs, cut a fresh pineapple, buy some large doughnut holes from our friendly vendor, and cut some bread Ralph bought from the bakery at the market. With jam, coffee and water, that should do it. I put on a yellow African print shift dress.
Timothee comes and Ralph asks him if he needs to dress up. Timothee says “No! He is coming to your house,” and laughs that great laugh of his. Ralph remains in his beige cargo shorts and I fret. They both laugh at me.
Well when the bishop arrives, he is in a hurry. He really only stopped to ask Ralph to come to Garga (hope I have that name right) with him over the weekend for a pastors’ conference and to preach on Sunday. But since I have the table set, he and his two companions will take a minute for a “petite dejunier” as Tim explains it to him.
Now I’m really flustered, quick get out the food, they set down, Ralph prays, they eat, they are very gracious and thank me, but they have a long drive ahead. The bishop says to me “I assume you are planning to come as well..” I tell the bishop I am not planning to go to with Ralph. He is taken back. “I told them a couple is coming,” he says. Now I’m really flustered. I don’t want to go. I much prefer to stay here and visit with Mancini and Philomene, and work on making clerical stoles. “I don’t usually go to these long meetings with Ralph,” I say. “I don’t want to offend anyone though.” The bishop pauses for what seems like forever because I am now really flustered. “That will be fine,” he says. “My wife does not travel with me either.” They leave. I collapse. We both realize we forgot to ask him to sign our house guest book, and I realize I forgot one very important Cameroonian custom, offering wash water and a towel before and after a meal.
Very late the next night, the Bishop returns with his driver to pick up Ralph and then drive back to N’Gounderie. They will probably not arrive until 11:00 pm and then get up to be on the road by 4:30 a.m. I don’t envy Ralph that drive. It is also supposed to be very hot there right now. The Bishop is very gracious again. We are sitting in the dark except for candle light. He asks, “No electricity?” Ralph tells him, “None for a couple of days now, no running water either, but we are doing fine.” He makes a sympathetic sound and we pounce on the moment to ask him to sign our guest book even though he really is in a hurry. His message is very nice. “Thank you for coming to Cameroon and to serve the Evangelical Lutheran Church for some time. God bless you while you are here.”
Bishop Nyiwe was not the only Bishop to visit us that night. Earlier the regional bishop Jean Marc and his son stopped to see how we are doing. We had not known he was coming so I did not have time to panic. He serves the church here in town where Mancini is a member. Timothee’s parish is rural, all outside town so she belongs to the church here in Meiganga. He is very gracious as well and signed our guest book too. “I’m Bishop Jean Marc from Meiganga Synod. I’m very happy to meet Rev. Ralph and Barbara. Have a nice moment in Cameroon.”
So there, you have the story of the Bishops’ visits, both of them. Now I am waiting for Ralph to return. I can’t help but worry as he is in a large city on the border of Cameroon and Central African Republic. Since the president of CAR was deposed in a coup last week, he and over 3,000 people have fled to Cameroon which maintains neutrality as long as refugees surrender their arms when they cross the border. Ralph had permission from Anne Langdji, the local ELCA mission authority. She thought he would be safe as long as he is with the Bishop and in a large city.
Pray for us both, as we pray for you.
Barbara and Ralph
April 1, 2013
The Good Friday service here in Meiganga was very nice. Some Norwegians who had worked here, and one who had lived here visited and we had a very interesting visit with them. One woman had hosted Pastor Timothee in Norway, so she was very close to him. The service reminded me very much of the same service at home. We even sang Rock of Ages, though in either French or Gbaya.
Since the Good Friday service I had been feeling very homesick, missing our family and our church family and our home very much. I think that is normal at holidays when one is far away, maybe more so for women. Men seem to seek out the adventure of a new experience, or maybe I’m just more of a home body. Anyhow, it had been raining all day, a heavy tropical rain, cold and damp. The power was out, and the water had been out for 5 or 6 days. We were searching for drinking water.
Friday afternoon, we had been to the tailor’s to see about a dress I had ordered for Easter, a traditional Cameroonian dress with African material. We had ordered it almost a week ago. When we went with Timothee on Friday to check the progress, nothing had been done and with the power out they were asking for more money to run the generator. Timothee said we would not pay extra since that was their business and they had promised the dress on Saturday, tomorrow. I left feeling very discouraged. It did not look like the dress would be ready for Easter and I was very disappointed. So all in all I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, asking Ralph “What are we doing here? What is our purpose?”
He tried to explain that ours was a good will mission, to share our hope and friendship with the people of Timothee’s congregations and the seminary families. I’m afraid I don’t think of myself as very skilled in being an ambassador or sharing my hope in Christ, so I guess I came away from our discussion more discouraged.
The power and water were still out on Saturday, but Ralph went to check again in the morning and they promised the dress at 4:00 pm. Saturday was clear, sunny and beautiful. We went to an annual soccer match between the French and Gbaya congregations at the Meiganga Lutheran church. They were serious soccer players and the game was impressive. We left midway to pick up the dress. It was ready! It was pretty big for me, but I was happy. I pinned it up and it looked beautiful. Things were looking up. But the home sickness persisted. I knew everyone was cleaning house here for company, planning the family gatherings the same as at home. I was thinking about Easter eggs and kicking myself for not bringing some dye. The kids here would have enjoyed that. We called home and talked to our daughters.
Easter Sunday was another beautiful day. When the sun shines the climate reminds me of Iowa in July (more humid than South Dakota), very humid, but cool in the morning and evening. Things are beginning to green up in the grass, and there are always flowering trees and bushes in the yards.
We went to church in Roblin, where Ralph went to help put up the church roof three years ago. I was excited to see the building and meet the people. Everyone was dressed in the best clothes. The church was full, children were seated on mats at the front facing the congregation in order to make enough room for adults to sit. A man, Ralph calls “The Stern Shepherd” stood up front and kept order with the 30-40 children who took their shoes off to sit on the mats.
The young women’s choir made the traditional Alleluia procession, and at least 5 choirs sang throughout the service. Pastors Timothee and Ralph baptized five children and one young adult man, one man was installed as treasurer for the congregation. We were officially greeted by many officials from the church.
The service was wonderful with beautiful music, accompanied by only drums and a stringed harp played by a retired catechist named Sunday. The choirs were excellent at creating harmonies and using rhythms. People would dance up to the directors and place coins on their foreheads. Ralph preached the sermon in English which Timothee translated into Gbaya and another man translated into another local language. Timothee sang a song with his guitar. I could go on at greater length, but the pictures we took would be better and more descriptive. The roof looked very sturdy and well anchored. The Lord willing it should serve this congregation well for a long time.
But finally, I am to the point where I can describe the event which meant a great deal to me, apart from the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, of course. A high church official who was a representative of the region, perhaps similar to an assistant to the bishop, was in attendance and sat up front with Ralph and Timothee. He delivered a rather long greeting, but the part I remember most was his statement that our presence was important to help bring peace to the Lutheran Church in Cameroon during a time of controversy and unrest. He said he knew we came from a very beautiful country, and that our life here was difficult. He thanked us for making the trip and coming to live among the people there. He was a very kind, humble gentleman and he spoke excellent English. When I took his picture he waved me away with “Oh, Barbara.” But his welcome meant so much to me after my questioning of Ralph and my homesickness.
Then we ate, and ate again. This part again must best be described by photos and video. Briefly, the women left and lined up outside the back entrance to the church. Each one had a dish of food balanced on her head. We could see them as we stood at the front of the church greeting everyone at the close of the service. Then everyone sat back down and the women began singing and processing in dance fashion up the center aisle. The line was very long, maybe 15-20 women. Some had several dishes on a tray on their heads. Some held on to the tray, but others did not. It was an awesome procession. They placed the dishes on the floor of the front of the church. It covered the front of the sanctuary. Ralph says Timothee told him that even some of the Muslim women in the community contribute food at each Easter festival because they want to help feed the hungry in the community.
We were taken to the local evangelist’s home to eat separately with Timothee and his family. We had just finished a meal of couscous and beef sauce, when Timothee told Ralph and me that we had to go greet one of the families whose child had been baptized. He didn’t tell us we would be served at a buffet of 6 or 8 dishes. They included a ground spinach-like vegetable dish, yams, plantains, boiled fish, rice with pasta, popcorn, and cake nuts (deep fried or baked batter in tiny crisp nut-like shapes, crunchy, sweet and very good.) So we ate again!
When we came out of the house, I wanted a picture of the hostess and Ralph had me pose with her. A group of young girls, teenagers or early twenties came around singing and posing in the picture too. They were having fun hamming for the camera, singing and dancing. We took many pictures with people from the church and some more video. It was a delightful party.
So there you have it for the time being. We are looking forward to sharing photos. The internet is just too inadequate to upload or download photos. We miss you all. God bless and keep you.
Ralph and Barbara
March 25, 2013
This is a story Ralph told me and I thought you would like to hear it, so he dictated it.“I was sitting outside the cyber café while Barbara was inside on the computer. People were walking by and an old man who was very bent over, using a long walking stick, approached. We caught each other’s eye and he made a motion like a strong man, or posed like a weight lifter with a smile on his face. He stood up straighter and reached behind and stroked his back with a look on his face that was telling me that his back hurts. He laughed and stroked his grey beard and his grey hair and pointed at my hair and I stroked mine, and we laughed and he went on without a word – just two old men describing life as old men without a spoken word.”
A Gracious Host and Cane Rat
Since I promised to tell you about cane rat, I will do so now. When were in Bindiba, the smallest village we have yet visited for a regional pastor’s meeting, we were hosted overnight in one of the finest houses available, I am certain. It was the home of the family which housed Timothee lived when he served that parish and was there overnight. The entire family slept elsewhere and he gave up his bed for us. It was a mud brick home you in most pictures of African homes. It had open windows with cloth coverings and shutters for both the windows and doors. The house had a tin roof rather than thatched which also indicated his status. The interior had nice stuffed sofas and chairs next to a wooden media center with shelves containing a television. The house was wired for electricity but the village generator only ran for a couple of hours after 7 pm. They did not run it the night we were there and we used a kerosene lamp on the table to eat supper.
A very gracious woman brought us our dinner with great care. It was delivered in beautiful serving bowls which are common here, but which we do not use in the States. They look like our casserole dishes with tight covers, but they are insulated like a large thermos. They keep the food hot for a very long time. The dishes are beautifully decorated – one for rice and another for the meat sauce. Both of these dishes are the finest they had to offer since rice is more expensive than cassava, and any meat at all is a treat in the sauce which is often made of lentils, beans, or ground nuts (peanuts and peanut butter).
The sauce is made much like we make a stew, oil for sauteed onions, tomatoes, greens, and whatever protein is available. I have made this sauce often here and while Timothee was with us. We both enjoy it with different kinds of seasonings, sometimes curry, sometimes basil or other herbs. When they have couscous (prepared cassava or sometimes corn or plantain) with the sauce, they dip the a small ball of couscous into the sauce with their fingers and eat it. This is a very common meal. The meal we had with rice was very elegantly served with forks and china which they would use for rice as well.
When dinner time came, they left us alone at the table to serve ourselves. We opened the dishes to hot steaming food which smelled very good – 2 or 3 quarts of rice, and another with sauce. The sauce contained mostly meat in gravy. The meat contained several unusually large chunks of meat, much more that usually presented for a family even. We each took rice and then a chunk of meat with sauce. We didn’t know what kind of meat it was. It was dark meat and rather tough, though some was tender, particularly around the bones. The meat had a very strong taste in the same way fish can have a strong flavor, but not a fishy taste. I can’t describe it any better. I can’t say I like it, but it was obvious that this was the equivalent of serving us steak.
When Timothee came to visit we asked him about the meat and he said it was cane rat, the kind he raises on his farm and of which he showed us pictures in South Dakota. We could not eat all of the food, but Timothee helped us that night.
The next day they brought the same pots filled up with the same food along with fried eggs and bread for breakfast. We enjoyed the eggs, bread and coffee and went to the meeting. But when we returned to open the beautiful insulated dishes, we found the food still very hot and exactly the same menu as before. We were full and didn’t particularly like the cane rat.
Now we had a dilemma. To refuse food is impolite, but we could not eat it, and we wanted them to feed their families while it was still hot. We asked them to take it back and Timothee did his best to explain that we could only eat “the minimum” as he put it, I think. He was speaking Gbaya, so I don’t really know. So now you have the story of cane rat.
Ralph, writing herenow. It’s hard to believe we’ve been here more than two weeks. People have been so gracious. Tim asked me to preach in his larger congregation on Easter, and he will translate. We gave a soccer ball to the bishop yesterday when we were at worship in his church in Meiganga at the Gbaya service, and he announced that there would be a match between the Gabaya and the French congregations next Saturday. The thousand or so people in the room cheered. There were 17 baptisms in that 2 ½ hour service. Five choirs sang, some more than once. I brought your greetings to all of them.
Our prayers are with you all.
Barbara and Ralph
March 19, 2013
Where do I begin? At last report we were in Yaounde where we deplaned in Cameroon, March 8. Since that time we have had many adventures , which I want to share with you in smaller chunks. But to keep you reading the more boring travel summary, I will tease you by saying we have eaten cane rat. That story will come later. As for our travels since last I wrote, we have journeyed deeper into the interior of central Cameroon and with each stop the city or town is smaller.
The progression has been:
- Yaounde from 3-8 to 3-12 which is the capital of Cameroon, and equivalent to Washington D.C. in its government buildings, embassies, commerce, and development equal to modern cities in the U.S. We stayed with ELCA missionaries Willie and Anne Langdji although we missed Ann by a day. Willie and his girls treated us royally and he gave us a marvelous tour of Yaounde.
- From there we traveled by car 12 hours to N’goundere a city roughly like Sioux Falls in its stores and public services. Phil and June Nelson hosted us graciously in an ELCA guest house. I must qualify that comparison to African equivalents: we had water most days in Yaounde as well as electricity, and good internet. In N’goundere, we had more variable power and water, and slower internet. We were in N’goundere 3/12 thru 3/14, and traveled 2 hours to Meiganga which will be our home base.
- Meiganga might be comparable to Yankton or Vermillion for some rough perspective to South Dakota terminology. Here we have erratic power, running water, and no internet. We did buy a satellite attachment which allows us to read the news on the internet and to read email, but there is very little we can input because the system is very, very, slow. (We have learned from the Peach Corps workers that an internet café exists in town, where we hope to respond to email and to mail this letter.) We cleaned and unpacked for two days, 3/14 and 3/15. The house is wonderful. By African standards, we are in luxury. (I will write more on this later) Phil brought in a refrigerator and exchanged it from the old in very difficult heat. We had help from Timothee and Adolph to wipe down the floors, the inside of the cupboards, set up mosquito netting, wash the curtains (in a washing machine!) and generally set up a household. We were very comfortable, but our initial traveling was not done.
- On 3/16, we traveled by car to Bindiba, a village where Timothee and Ralph participated in a central region pastors’ conference and wives attended as well. I don’t think we have a South Dakota equivalent to this village. It is almost completely African – no electricity (maybe 2 hours at night when they run generators, so there is wiring), no running water (they may have a well for the entire village) and very poor housing. But as most villages they have a church and school. (the church had electricity.) This village is still not the equivalent of what is referred to as the bush, or the rural villages and we have not visited any of them yet.
We are now back home in Meiganga, and have begun discussing how we could be of some use while we are here observing. Ralph and Timothee will be working together of course, and I will be helping Ralph with an English class at the seminary. The Peace Corp workers tell us they will be installing a computer lab in the Center for Women next door, so I might help with some computer training. We continue to try to learn some French to communicate as best as we can, but the human language of love and a shared Christian faith give us much in common.
God bless you while we are gone. Please continue to pray for us as we do for you. We will try to send more news later. You can send us email at Ralph’s address email@example.com. We can read it at night, but will not respond until our next visit to the café. It is very difficult to connect, so it may be a while before our next letter. I’ll try to be more entertaining next time I write – maybe I’ll describe cane rats.
Love, Barbara and Ralph
A note from Pastor Ralph and Barbara Egbert who are in Cameroon as part of a pastoral exchange:
We worshiped in a French speaking church here in Yaounde today with Timothee Sodea and Willie Langdji. The music was exhilarating, especially when Pastor Timothee got up to rouse everyone with welcome songs.
Then we had a tour of the city and saw the governmental
buildings, the home of the president of Cameroon, and an incredible view of the city from one of the higher hills. The homes are terraced along 7 hills much like San Francisco, but a much wider range of mix of rich and poor.
The internet is too slow to upload pictures right now, but we’ll keep trying.
You are in our thoughts and prayers.
Ralph and Barbara
A message from Barbara:
We will be traveling again for a day or two as we are not yet in Meiganga where we will be staying. We will travel at least 12 hours by car tomorrow, so it will be a long day, and we do not know yet where we will spend the night. The guard dogs have been barking for over an hour, so I got up to do some email while I still had access. Ralph seems to be able to sleep through it.
The rains have come here in Yaounde and it reminds us of April in the states, though warmer and more humid than even in May. Everything is turning green. Timothee says it has not begun in Meiganga yet. The grass is fresh and new with young green sprouts and there are bright pink, purple, and yellow flowers that remind us of California or Florida
I have been noticing the local women’s clothing. Here in the city it ranges from very chique western, to beautiful locally made dresses, to second hand clothing imported from the west. I especially like the local dresses made by tailors from Cameroonian textile materials. Not one style is the same and every woman is her own flower.
Speaking of women flowers, as I guess I was, they celebrate a national women’s day here with parades, parties, and a day off. There are posters urging the end to violence against women. Each year the textile factories print bright blue and pink fabrics with the slogan national women’s day on them. The women have dresses made in every style and shape imaginable. The fabric is new every year, so the colors are especially bright . Unfortunately we arrived too late for the parade as the big celebration was Friday.
Well the dogs have stopped. I guess they accomplished their objective. Now the roosters have begun, although they do crow at night too. I don’t know when I will be able to write you again. We have a cell and will buy minutes as soon as we can, so we might call.
Please keep us in your prayers as we remember you in ours.