Friday, January 25, 2013


It rained last night.  That doesn’t sound like anything unusual, but here it is!  This is the dry season.  It’s not supposed to rain until April, yet in the middle of the night we had a monster of a storm – torrential rain, thunder, lightning, wind, the whole nine yards.

It had been cloudy all day and not nearly as hot as the day before.  In fact, the wind in the evening and the gray sky made me think of rain – by Pennsylvania standards – and, I guess, by those here as well. 

This morning is fresh and cool.  I wonder…  I had heard that several days ago it had rained in Yaoundé, but that is much further south so I thought it was a special case.  Then I heard it rained “en brousse” in a small town not too far south of here.  The man who told me about it was amazed and said it must be global warming.  Now, it has rained in Garoua Boulai!  Maybe he is right.  What will the rest of the “dry” season be like??

Sunday, January 20, 2013

We've Been Workin' on the Planning

Something a little different to start this blog entry! 

Please sing this next part to the tune of 
“I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”

We’ve been workin’ on the planning                                                  Here are some of the reasons we work and plan!
All the live-long day.We've been workin' on the planning,
Just to help us find a way.
Can’t you hear the brains a turning?
Rise up so early in the morn.
Don't you hear the leaders shouting
"People, know your way?"

People, won't you help,
People, won't you help,
People, won't you help us plan?
People, won't you help,
People, won't you help,
People, won't you help us plan?

Someone's got the best ideas.
Someone's got the way, I know.
Someone's got the best ideas
Talkin’ up a storm, they’ll flow.

Fee, fie, fiddle-e-i-o.
Fee, fie, fiddle-e-i-o-o-o-o.
Fee, fie, fiddle-e-i-o.
Talkin’ up a storm, they’ll flow.

I am happy to be back at the work for which I was called!  Now that I am in Garoua Boulai (the Cameroonian town on the border with CAR), the leadership teams of the Village School Program and Christian Education have been willing to come the 50 km. from Baboua to meet with me here.  We have had two very productive planning days with more scheduled this next week.

The church leaders (ELCA as a supporting partner and EEL-RCA as a developing organization) have been training pastors and program leaders to analyze the internal and external factors affecting programs and to use that knowledge to plan.  Planning – taking more time and effort to create detailed steps that can be put into effect and evaluated according to criteria selected in advance.

Those working in Christian Education have been headed in the direction of thorough planning, so it has been a pleasure to provide some tools and suggestions to move the work along. 

The Village School Program has a new Director and Curriculum Coach as of the first of 2013.  What better way to get to know the program as it has been and to develop what we want it to be?  Of course, much more time and effort is needed.  Although the Community Developer has been in his position for several years, there are two brand-new team members and me – who has only really be on the job for about six weeks!  Nevertheless, we all seem to have a common vision of what the program can be, so we are all pulling in the same direction.

Because there is so much to examine and plan for, the Village School Program leadership team has agreed to come to Garoua Boulai for a retreat Monday (tomorrow) through Wednesday.  This way, we can spend our time working without having to worry about their getting back to Baboua while it is still light.  Also we save time and gas money by staying in the same town.  Eva, who helps me out at the house in Baboua (and who has been working in an empty house since Dec. 24!) is coming along to help prepare meals.  (I could do it, but not if I am to participate in discussions...)  We should be able to have an in-depth plan ready for 2013 by the end of our time together this week.  And, we hope that a shared understanding of what has happened in the past and the next steps we propose will get us to future that will help more young Central Africans learn.

Note:  The situation in CAR is definitely better.  President Bozizé has named Nicolas Tiangaye as the new Prime Minister; he is from the opposition.  These two will now form a new coalition government.  A fragile peace reigns.  Let us pray that it will soon become permanent and that displaced Central Africans can return home safely.  Then it will be time for me to go back to Baboua, too!  Soon and very soon…

Monday, January 14, 2013

Peace Accord and Plans

So, did you hear the good news?  The Central African government officials and the rebels signed an agreement Friday.  There is a cease-fire and a plan to form a coalition government.  The Prime Minister and cabinet were decommissioned (fired) Saturday and as early as today the opposition will name the new Prime Minister!  All good news. 

I will not be going back to CAR until some time has passed to be sure that the agreement holds and peace has truly returned to the country, but I am encouraged and hopeful.  Meanwhile, I will be moving to Garoua Boulai Wednesday.  This is a Cameroonian town just on the border with CAR.  The directors of the programs I work with will be able to travel (by motorcycle) the 50 km. between the two towns so we can have planning meetings and advance our work.  We will work that way until the national Lutheran churches in CAR and the US agree that it is safe for us to return to Baboua.

In the meantime, I am still in N’gaoundéré.  I have had 3 lessons in the Gbaya language.  Although Sango (that I am already studying) is the national African language in CAR, the ethnic group in the area around Baboua is the Gbaya and I want to be able to understand some of what they say.  I will only get a start here, but am glad for that because Gbaya is a tonal and often nasal language and my ear doesn’t easily hear the difference among the vowel sounds!  This will take time.

I am also collecting and reading materials that have been developed for Sunday school lessons.  CAR pastors have expressed a need to have lessons in Sango that suit different age levels instead of 1 size fits all (that they now have).  I have been talking to the man in charge of Christian education in Cameroon and a Norwegian missionary who has some materials we may be able to adapt.  The Christian Education program director, some pastors, and I will look at these materials (and others they have collected) to develop a plan for the Lutheran Church in CAR.

Even with these activities, I have a lot of free time!  I had a tailor make me a dress with material I bought at the market here.

Sunday, I went with June and Phil Nelson to visit the Bénoué National Game Park.  It is about 1 hr. 45 min. from N’gaoundéré – 110 km.  We left at 5 a.m. and were back at 7:30 p.m.  Once we got to the park, we drove several km. to the reception, cabins, and restaurant area.  Visitor must pay an entry fee there (3,000 cfa per person) and a fee to take pictures (2,000 cfa per camera) for a total that is about $10 each.  We also picked up a guide who went with us.  Workers are currently grading and improving the roads, so some where level and smooth.  Others haven’t been touched yet.  Of those, some are rough, but passable, and others cars can’t yet use. 

male kob
We drove to an area where the hippopotamuses live and saw about 20 sunning themselves on the sand as it was relatively early and cool.  On the road to and from that site we saw baboons, some other monkeys, warthogs (at a distance), birds, lots of kob antelope, a few hartebeests, and a few other small animals.  Notice in the picture, the female kob are in a field that was burned recently – you can see the black ash, but you can also see the green grass that quickly begins to grow again.  (Did you know?  The antelopes belong to the Bovidae, the same horned family as the cow, the sheep, and the goat. The Bovidae are a family of ruminants, those cud chewing animals which swallow their food in haste into a storage stomach, from which it is returned later to the mouth a little at a time to be thoroughly chewed.  Info from

female kob
Although they live in the park, we saw no lions, leopards, or buffalo.  Maybe next time or when I visit, Bouba-Ndjida, a larger game park further north in Cameroon.

After a delicious lunch prepared at the restaurant and a walk down to nearby (small) waterfalls and stream, we (including the guide) drove back to the place where the hippos live.  They were all submerged in the water because it was hot! Interesting to see them with only nostrils visible.  (The picture some with heads showing because just noses with lots of water are not an interesting picture!)  Also, on the same strip of sand, we saw a couple of crocodiles.

It was a long, but wonderful day.  Now I am back to studying Gbaya, talking about Sunday school materials, and packing to move to Garoua Boulai.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

More Adventures in N'gaoundere

The rebels are still active in the Central African Republic – in fact they took two more towns yesterday.  The rebels are no closer to Bangui, the capital, were last week, but they now occupy two more towns close to Bambari – a town they already held to the east of the capital.  I still don’t hear reports of much fighting between them and the government troops, but people in the area are afraid and many have gone into hiding in forests nearby.  So, I am still in N’gaoundéré.  As you can see from the picture, I am doing well! 

On New Year’s Eve, a bunch of us (from the US and Cameroon) went to Les Falaises.  The word in French means cliffs.  It is an area about an hour from town where there are hills, forests, and, of course, cliffs!  The area makes me think of some parts of Pennsylvania in Aug.  (You have to add the month since it is dry here and warm/hot.)  The forests have different trees and plants, but I enjoyed walking around pretending I was an hour from Pittsburgh!

The main reason we went was because there are ruins of a village where people lived a long time ago.  None of us are archeologists or historians so we didn’t know what things were.  In particular, there were lots of rings of stones – some with one circle of standing stones and others with 2 or 3 concentric circles.  Think Stonehenge, but much smaller – only about 6-12 inches out of the ground.  There were also a lot of grinding stones. 

In that area some people are now building a guest house to encourage tourists to come.  The buildings are round, as are some local houses, but larger so that they make 2 rooms which have in-door plumbing (certainly not the norm for local houses).  Also, local houses have thatched roofs – these had metal roofs which they then covered with thatch.  This makes the roofs last longer and also makes the houses a little cooler (and less noisy in the rain) than they would be with only the metal.

New Year’s Eve all of the missionaries from CAR got together to eat, talk, and drink toasts.  It was enjoyable and has enabled us to get to know each other even better. 

I greatly appreciate that Jackie has organized the short trips and has been willing to introduce me/us to her friends here.  She lived in N’gaoundéré for a year while studying French so she knows the area well and has lots of Cameroonian friends.

Mamoum's Chief
Yesterday, Jackie, 3 Cameroonian friends, and I went to visit the town of Momoum, about 35 km. from N’gaoundéré.  A traditional chief that she knows invited us to see his compound and to share a meal together.  It was a wonderful experience.  A compound is an area with various buildings that are surrounded by a fence of woven straw.  There are sleeping spaces, a kitchen, an office space, a well, and a paillote.  The last is made from poles that support a thatched roof.  We went into the paillote first.  There were rugs on the ground.  The chief has a small platform on which he can sit for official meetings.  While we were there, he leaned upon it.  We all sat on the ground.  Some of us sat with our back against the supporting poles.  When the chief saw Jackie and I doing that, he went into the house and brought out two pillows for us to lean against – to be more comfortable.  We were the only women among about six men.  The women in the household don’t seem to come into the paillote except to bring food and clear the area.

All of the men are Moslem (as are the rest of the chief’s family, of course.)  After we were there for a while (about 1 p.m.), it was time for prayer.  Moslems must make ablutions (wash) before praying.  Then they used the paillote rugs to pray.  We were invited to stay and say our own prayers.  Just before we left, it was again time for the Moslems to pray.  After their prayers, they all sat and said some extra prayers – for peace in CAR and other countries, for our safe travels, etc.  We were asked to add our prayers to those of the group.  The chief explained that we all pray to God and there is only one God. 

As we walked around the compound, we met many of the women who live there.  This is a picture of one with traditional scaring.  She explained that it was usual for young women in her day to make the marks by adding ashes to cuts in the skin.  They considered it a way to become more beautiful.  It was also a sign that the young woman could stand the pain of having it done.  Peers would hound young women who had not had it done.  It seems to be less common today and she told us that she would like to have it undone.  (She asked us if we knew a way to remove the scarring.)  During this conversation, I couldn’t help but think about the popularity of tattooing in the west.  Yes, ours have color, but some of the reasons for getting tattoos seem to be the same as this traditional scarring. 

I was impressed and pleased to see how we were welcomed to the compound.  We thanked the chief and others there as we were leaving.  He said something like, “It is a gift for us to receive you and offer you food.  It is your gift to accept the hospitality and friendship.”  We could use a lot more of this sentiment in the world today!