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In the past four months, I have visited 9 of Cameroon’s 10 provinces and seen some incredible sights. But what I most love about Cameroon is the people that I have had the opportunity to spend time with. Here are a few of the faces I love:

face-albert.jpgAlbert Samah is my research partner for my study of Pentecostalism. He is a history teacher, a phd student, a poet, and always making me laugh. A typical day spent with and Albert involves us walking all over the city debating the inerrancy of scripture or the role of women, on our way to the next interview. He is a true friend. (see blog titled “In the Field)

 

face-collins.jpgCollins Etchi Ako (or Sketchy Etchie, as I call him) is the leader of the HIV/AIDS malaria team for the United Methodist Church Cameroon. Collins knows how to “get the fun.” His great sense of humor made the endless hours in the bus a blast, and I love hanging out with him in Yaoundé. He recently got married and has a baby girl, Annielle. I don small class for pigeon, Collins na ma teacher.

face-ines.jpgPaulinesse (Ines) becomes more beautiful to me everyday. My youngest host-sister has a heart of gold, and eyes that grow big and bright and full of wonder. She loves to lie next to me on my bed and listen to my music. I’m teaching her to swing dance, Charleston and everything, and she loves to be twirled about. I’ve learned a lot about life from spending time with Ines.

face-lawrence.jpgLawrence is from the village of Defang wayyyy out in the Southwest province. When we arrived at his church on the mission trip, he was out front leading the children in song and dance. He has the faith to move mountains and recently told me about his dream of becoming a United Methodist pastor.

face-marie.jpgMarie is the “femme de ménage” at my homestay, so six days a week I wake up to her fantastic smile. She is one of the most delightful people I know, and taught me how to flip omelets in the air. I love to sit next to her in the kitchen as she grinds spices or peels vegetables.

face-mama.jpgMama Therese is the wife of Pastor Simeon and has two adorable boys, Jonas and Janvier. She is incredibly sweet and has a beautiful smile. She is a wonderful seamstress and loves to lead children in song and dance.

face-alain.jpgAlain is my host sisters’ home teacher, so he comes by the house three times a week to teach math and physics. He studies and teaches computer science at local schools. Alain is always teaching me in the ways of Cameroonians; one time put a chicken bone in my mouth for me to eat, but I just couldn’t do it.

“The equatorial rainforest to the savannah. The savannah to the sahel. If we went any further, we’d be in the desert.” My friend Lauren, a geography major, traces our journey north in terms like these. A 17 hour train ride to Ngoundere, an 8 hour bus ride to Maroua, another 4 hours to Waza, and we have seen the transformation of Cameroon. Waking up on the train in the morning, we peer outside the window to see that small bushes and huge expanses of brown dirt have replaced the verdant palm trees of Yaoundé. We drive past communities of tiny brown huts with thatched rooves belonging to the semi-nomadic peoples. We even drive across some African flood planes – dried up rivers that will remain scorched and thirsty until the rainy season begins. For miles we see nothing but scattered bushes speckling the dusty landscape. This is the savannah.
 

As we make our journey to the extreme north province of Cameroon, I see change not only in the climate, but in the people as well. The heavy Muslim influence in the city of Maroua is noticeable. The women are enveloped, head to toe, in beautiful African fabrics. The men gather on mats outside buildings and mosques to pray. Once our bus stops in front of a mosque during evening prayer time, and the bus window becomes a portal into the Muslim faith as the men do ablutions and make prostrations right before my eyes. 
 
We leave the sleepy city of Maroua on Tuesday morning and drive to Lake Marga, a huge lake built by the Chinese in the seventies, connecting to the River Chad. We climb aboard a pirogue and sail off. We pass communities of nomadic peoples and their meager huts on small floating banks along the water. We see fishermen and cattle herders, and children who wave as we go by. And then we see hippos! Live and in the wild, no less than 10 enormous hippos gather on the water’s surface in front of us. 

Later we drive to Waza, the park reserve where we will finally go on safari. For the afternoon we are only just driving through the park to the entrance, but we keep our eyes peeled anyway. Laura screams “giraffe!” and we all turn to look out the left windows of the bus. An enormous giraffe peers out at us from hind a tree. It is beautiful, graceful, in its element in the wild, it is so different from that which I have seen in the zoo. We drive to the park center and find that we will be sleeping in tiny mud huts with thatched roofs. But the heat seems sweltering to us, so we pull the mattresses outside under the stars. I am sleeping in the center of the largest game reserve in the country. Thousands of wild animals surround us, and as I trace the constellations from my African perspective, I see three shooting stars and Leo the Lion looming large above me.
 
And then we wake at 5AM to go on safari. Safari is a long day of sitting on top the bus, our eyes peeled for elusive elephants and beautiful birds. Sadly, we see no lions, and the elephants are very far in the distance, but here is a list of animals that we do see:
 

Spotted hyeana
Common jackal
Green monkey
Topi
Roan Antelope
Kob
Red Fronted Gazelle
Giraffe
Warthog
Grimm’s durker
Elephant
Ostrich
And a host of beautiful birds. Giraffes are every where and unbelievable. And the warthog is just one of the most fantastic creations!

 

The next day we travel to my new favorite place in the world, the village of Rhumsiki. Built on the sides of mountains and beautiful valleys and rock formations, the town is breathtaking. The people are so friendly and the children just delightful. Three boys are my guides for the day. They show me around the market and the town. They take me to a place with a panoramic view of the village and the rock formations. Later I mount a horse with no saddle and ride bare-back across the Nigerian border! I end up in a small Nigerian village inside a polygamous complex, sitting with a bunch of children and women who have never seen white people before.

The trip is a phenomenal experience. But as I wake up in the morning on the train ride home, I am once again relieved to see palm trees out the window. We are back in the equatorial rainforest, back in Yaoundé. And for a little while longer, this is home.
 

Palm Sunday began with a jolt – a loud clap of thunder shook the earth and I awoke with a start. Rain was pounding furiously on the tin roof above me. Rain like I had never seen or heard before – it seemed angry, relentless – as if it carried a message for us below. Perhaps a message of humility or silence or fear. I pulled the covers to me and shivered as what sounded like a giant rain stick turned over and over and over again in a furious symphony that slowly faded until I fell back asleep.
 

“Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.” – Matthew 21:7,8
 

We set off later that morning for the tiny village of Sumbe. The early morning’s storm had transformed a land of dust into a land of mud. The bus swerved and sputtered and slid its way along the bumpy roads and around the potholes and puddles. Perhaps it was a dirt road, filthy and unkempt such as this one that led Jesus into Jerusalem. I began to wonder if I would have thrown down my cloak on this muddy road to welcome this poor man riding a colt into my city. I think of my Lenten journey – my stubborn and selfish heart prevailing. I begin to wonder if today I will finally throw my cloak on the ground to welcome the poor man riding a colt into my heart.
 

“Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
 ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’” – Matthew 21:9
 

As we drove through village after village I began to see small signs of celebration. A lone woman in African dress carried a huge palm branch with many leaves. Later we passed a small congregation parading in front of a small church; with palm branches in hand they remind me that the news has reached even the farthest corners of Africa. Later I walked to a leafy bush, I plucked a single frond, and reverently, as I have done for many years, folded it up and down until it formed a cross – the bittersweet symbol of what was to come this week.
 

“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out!’” – Luke 19:39, 40
 

After five hours in the bus, we arrived at Sumbe United Methodist Church. A long line of children gathered, their big eyes peering at us through the iron railing. We entered the church and a woman’s voice cried out a word of praise above the rest. The African drums began to call out a rhythm and soon the whole congregation cried out in praise and adoration. Small children danced alongside their fathers. Babies wrapped in African cloth were tied to the backs of their mothers who sang and swayed to the music. There were songs of Jesus and power, songs of God’s mighty deeds, choruses of Hosannas and Hallelujahs. Even when the sanctuary filled, many gathered outside, adding praises from the porch. There was no silence in that place – all drums, all hands, all voices, all creation shouted out.
 

“When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ the crowds were saying ‘This is the prophet, Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee.’” Matt 21; 10,11
 

We visited two churches that day, bringing them information about malaria and HIV/AIDS, an endemic and pandemic that take the lives of their brothers and sisters daily. We saw their homes and their churches. We saw their oppression, their freedom, their sorrow and their joy. We saw much but did little. We are limited by our humanness, our selfishness, our fear.
 

Night fell and we settle into a place in the village of Tinto, a place with no running water and no electricity. The heat still hangs heavy in the air as I sit in the dark beneath a cloud covered sky and watch the silhouettes of a few scattered palm trees appear and disappear in the flashes of heat lightening. As I survey the vast African sky, I am once again made aware of the magnitude of this earth, the grandness of my God. I feel humbled, I feel powerless. The rain catches up with the lightening storm and my day ends as it began – in fear and silence as the clouds or the heavens or something from above weeps longingly over the land.
 

“As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it.” – Luke 20:41

 

6-north-trip-078.jpgOutside of Sumbe UMC, the first of nine churches on our mission route. We (Ginger, Collins, Pastor Simeon, Gisele, and I) held a program at each church informing congregants and other villagers about HIV/AIDS and malaria.  I have now worshipped with half the United Methodists in Cameroon.

Outside of Sumbe UMC, the first of nine churches on our mission route. We (Ginger, Collins, Pastor Simeon, Gisele, and I) held a program at each church informing congregants and other villagers about HIV/AIDS and malaria.  I have now worshipped with half the United Methodists in Cameroon.

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