Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mɔįa nɛ nú Gbaya

I have had nine hours of Gbaya language study in the past week or so – with the third teacher, Paapi.  I have had a total of about 40 hours so far – not so many for learning a new language – especially when they have been in different towns, with different teachers, and spread out with no study in between! 

Paapi invited me to go to the Gbaya service at his church today and I agreed.  First, it POURED rain this morning.  It started sometime in the night, so there was a lot of rain and water.  When that happens, church doesn’t start on time – it gets delayed.  So, the service that was to start at 9 started about 10 – sort of like a snow delay! 
church name embroidered in communion cloth

The church, Sɂ Tɂa (God Spoke), is in the town of Beka Hossere, about 13 km. from the Lutheran Station where I am staying.  Paapi and I met in town so that he could go with me to find the place.  I am not bad at following directions, but am greatly hindered here by the fact that there are few street signs and I know few of the land marks! 

As we arrived, the congregation was singing songs – warming up and announcing to those still coming that they should hurry up that the service was starting soon. 

Some of the leaders of this congregation are also active with the Gbaya Cultural Center in N’gaoundéré.  One project has been to put together a revised songbook for congregations to use.  They are using the relatively new spellings that have been adopted.  They sell it for 2,000 cfa ($4).  That doesn’t cover the cost of producing it, but they don’t want set the price too high or no one will be able to afford to buy it.

young women of a choir
As the service starts, one choir (yes, most churches here have more than one – the more members, the more choirs!  Eat your heart out ELLC…) and those leading the liturgy enter to a song.  Most music is a capella with drum accompaniment sometimes.  I was pleased that three of the songs they sang were to tunes I knew:  “Rock of Ages,” ”Abide with Me,” and “What a Friend we have in Jesus.”  (Not that I didn’t have trouble singing and understanding…)

As with many churches here, a pastor doesn’t lead the liturgy each week – there are not yet enough pastors to go around.  Here, the pastor comes the last Sunday of each month so there is also communion.

Paapi is in charge of recording information about the service in a bound book.  I can’t say exactly what he wrote (since it was, of course, in Gbaya!), but I know he recorded attendance – number of men, women, and children.  Most children were not in this service.  They attend Sunday School at the same time in another building.  Paapi was also the one to make announcements.  Always during this time, new people stand up and introduce themselves.  There were two of us today.  I was able to say the four sentences I had prepared. I thought I had done it pretty well, but wondered when Paapi repeated the information when I was done… Oh, well, more work to be done!

After two weeks of study, I attended a Gbaya service in Garoua Boulai.  I think I understood about 10 words then.  This time, I may have understood about 20%.  It helps a great deal that I understand the liturgy, had read the gospel lesson ahead of time (in English and Gbaya), and that the leaders of this liturgy spoke and read very clearly.  I was impressed that they also spoke fairly slowly.  Now, I understood words, but never very many in a row!  I can’t say that I understood what was being said, but I could follow along with the written words to a large extent.  As I say, still lots of work to do to learn this language!
Susan, Paapi, Suzanne with baby

After the service, I meet Suzanne, Paapi’s wife, and their son.  Numerous other people also greeted me – including a women who sells fruits and vegetables around the guest houses.  She is originally from CAR and greeted me in Sango! 

I had a chance to sit with leaders to ask and answer questions.  This congregation was started in July 2011.  They said there had been no church in their village even though most members were already church-goers.  They now have a very nice building.  We talked about my work and some of the projects they want to initiate. 

I felt very welcome in the church.  Maybe I’ll go back once I learn more Gbaya and when I am in town for a visit.

Update:  I am leaving N’gaoundéré for Garoua Boulai tomorrow morning.  That is the Cameroonian town on the border with the Central African Republic.  It is also the town where I spent about six weeks earlier this year. 

I am going because I can better support the leadership teams I work with.  I cannot go to CAR, but they can come to GB so that we can work and plan together.  Also, if we need to send documents back and forth, there are more people who go between Baboua and GB since they are only 50 km. apart. 

Exactly when (or how often) Central Africans can come to me and my schedule are not yet clear, but I hope that I can soon start Gbaya lessons again soon.  Meanwhile, I am well – healthy and basically happy.  I would, of course, be much happier if peace would return to CAR.  My heart breaks each time I think about all the displaced people and problems there.  Please continue to pray for peace.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R and R

Since the news this week has been pretty much the same as last week and I am still in N’gaoundéré, Cameroon, I asked people what they might like me to write about this week.  I got two requests:  education for girls from their perspective and R and R.  I need to talk to some girls and young to talk intelligently on the former so that topic will have to wait for another day.  (By the way, I am always open to suggestions for topics.  What would you like to know more about?)

So rest and relaxation.  Take a break from deeper, thought-provoking themes and lessons about culture here and relax with me!  Who would have guessed that I had so much to say on the topic!

I have always been an avid reader.  I can’t imagine what my life would be like without books and reading.  I like to be able to read to relax – to escape, if you will, into the world of a book.  At the same time, I prefer books that will also teach me something I didn’t know.  I have learned a lot that way!  For example, I have recently read a couple of books by Sarah Andrews.  The main character in each is Em Hansen, a forensic geologist!  Did you know there was such a thing?  I didn’t either.  So, although the books are mysteries, I also learned a lot about gold mining (An Eye for Gold) and dust picked up by in Africa that travels to Florida, sometimes carrying pathogens (Killer Dust).  In the process, I am also learning more about Mormons. 

I am also reading What’s Wrong with the World? by G. K. Chesterton.  I had heard his name before but never read any of his 80 or so books.  He wrote the Father Brown series, but was also a very important philosopher and writer at the turn of the 20th century.  I find that I don’t understand all the references to people and places (he is British), but his work is thought provoking. 
I am able to read as much as I’d like and the variety of genres because I got a Kindle just before I came.  I tend to borrow e-books from the library – I have always been a huge fan of libraries! – or to get free ones from  I do buy some titles, but the free ones have me exploring some older books that I had never considered reading before. 

I also read “real” books – ones I find at the guest houses or that are given to me.  I have a couple that I am reading in French (much more work and less relaxing, but important to do).  One is a novel (not yet started) and the other a collection of stories told by Gbaya people about their lives  I am reading it a little at a time.  I also read online – email, Facebook, some web surfing (mostly English, of course...) 

In addition to reading, I also watch movies sometimes on my computer.  The bandwidth of our internet connections is not wide enough to provide streaming – I can’t even watch short You-Tube videos easily – but others here have things I can borrow.  I got Bones, Season 7 for Christmas, borrowed NCIS, Season 8 from a friend, and I just borrowed My Cousin Vinny from another friend.  I have seen that before, but love the humor of it!

Another favorite pastime of mine is walking.  I like to go places on foot to see the neighborhoods, shops, people, and to learn more about where I am – ways roads connect, but also clues to culture here.  Walking also helps me process thoughts and get exercise.

I also relax with friends.  Recently, that has been other missionaries in N’gaoundéré, but I also talk with Cameroonians I have met.  We went to dinner at the Coffee Shop last evening.  It is a restaurant, not really what we know as a coffee shop, but the food is great and we have gotten to know the owners.  Jackie and I walked to get there, so we stopped to visit various people she knows along the way.  I enjoy talking to people – especially when I can do it in their language, but I have felt limited here.  Yes, I can speak French with them, but many here speak Fulfuldé and I can’t get beyond very simple greetings.  Others in town speak Gbaya, but my level is not yet to where I can have a conversation – I can do simple greetings, though.  If I were in Central Africa, I could be speaking in Sango.  I can carry on a conversation in that language, but need to deepen my knowledge.  Oh, well, that will have to wait since there are few Sango speakers in N’gaoundéré. 

I asked one Cameroonian what he did to relax.  He said that after a long day, especially if it has been stressful, he likes to lie flat on the floor and relax, thinking of nothing.  No music, no distractions, just time to unwind and calm his mind. 

I asked him whether people here listen to music much.  He said that the young like to listen to foreign music, especially rap from the US.  They often listen at home although “boites” exist.  Literally, that means box, but means a night club or place one goes to listen to music and dance.  There are a few like what we might see in the states, but it also might be an open-air bar with a live group or disk jockey.

I often see kids outside playing soccer with whatever ball or ball-like object they can find.  Since it is mango season, I also see them throwing rocks or mangos from the ground at ones still on the trees trying to get them down to eat.  I am sure they consider that fun!  Plus, they can eat the results if they get one that is ripe enough. 

Children, often boys, but now always, make “cars” or “trucks” from bits of whatever they can find.  I have not been able to get good pictures but here’s a poor one!  If you want to see more, check out Karen Lynn William’s picture book Galimoto.  I also see lots of boys rolling a bike (or other) tire down the street with a stick. 

I am convinced that children often have a great time just calling out to white people to see if they will answer! Or, following them to see what they will do.  We are, after all, strangers in their midst.  Calling “Munju” (Sango) or “Nasara” (Fulfulbé and Gbaya) is fun if they can get the person to greet them or shake their hand.  Even after I say hello, some will continue to call out the word to see if they can get me to greet them multiple times. 

Many Cameroonians and Central Africans listen to the radio (often music).  Most cell phones have the capability to play radio stations.  I listen to a short-wave radio, but usually to hear news, so that isn’t often relaxing! 

Africans who can afford it own a television.  I know they watch news, but other programs are shown too.  One can find channels in French, English, Arabic, Chinese, local languages, and a variety of others, especially with a satellite dish.  I have to say that I have seen very little television since I am here – of course, I didn’t watch much television in Pittsburgh before I came either.  For a long time I have preferred DVDs – from the library, Netflix, primarily!   

Playing soccer on the beach at dusk
Those Africans (and missionaries) who can afford it may also go to the beach such as we did in Limbé.  Most people there were Cameroonians enjoying a day at the beach.  The Atlantic Ocean is far from where we currently are, though, so most who go there are from closer areas such as Yaoundé or Douala.  There are other tourist destinations such as primate sanctuaries, botanical gardens, etc.  Foreigners go, but, nowadays, many Cameroonians do, too.  There are fewer of these kinds of place in CAR and fewer people with disposable income that can visit them.

Well, this focuses mostly on what I do to relax – I guess I could go out and get more information from the people to see what they do – but, even though that would be interesting to me, it might not be relaxing! 

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Where does your garbage go?  How much do you produce?  As I was walking to church this morning in N’gaoundéré, I was thinking about garbage!  Why?  Probably because I saw trash in piles along the road and then a little later saw the garbage truck that was going around to pick up the piles. 

Besides, writing about the Central African Republic is still depressing.  OK, it’s true that a council was named to select an interim president.  And, they picked Michel Djotodia – surprised? Probably not.  He is the man who proclaimed himself president just after the March 24 coup and he was the only candidate put forward by the council.  But, this gives him “legitimacy” in the eyes of the world, right?  (That was the goal, anyway.)  He has also agreed to hold “free and fair” elections in 18 months.  Free and fair like the last ones? Let’s hope not since reports of corruption were rampant then. 

It is also true that Baboua continues to be calm overall – Séléka rebels, turned military, did break into the mayor’s office there to destroy documents and steal his chair.  (Yeah, that made a lot of sense to me, too…)  Other towns are still experiencing looting and Séléka military (or are they profiteers who are just claiming to be Sékéka?) are stealing vehicles and/or stopping them to get what money they can. 

So, I think I’ll go back to thinking about garbage!

As in many places in the US, people here litter in the streets much more than I would like to see.  I am encouraged by some initiatives, though.  Here in N’gaoundéré, the market stalls cannot open until 10 a.m. on Thursdays because the owners and workers are to clean up the area around their space for the hour or so before then.  I know that if they open early they are fined.  I don’t know if any action is taken if they don’t clean things up.  Still, it is a good move. 

Elsewhere many shop keepers sweep the areas around their shops.  They put garbage in a pile on trash day or sweep it into the rain gutters.  (See photo.)  Periodically, then, people, usually young boys, clean those out so that rain water can flow.  I have even see some ¼ barrels along the street where people can throw their garbage.

My question is:  where does all the trash go when it is collected?  I don’t know, but suppose there is a landfill/dump somewhere not far away.

Meanwhile, on the missionary stations, we have our own private landfills.  Workers dig a very deep hole where we throw our trash.  This past week they began digging us a new hole since the one we were using was very full.  (See pictures.) 

I found it fascinating to watch the process.  First they dug normally.  Once the hole was deep, one person got inside and filled buckets with dirt.  Others were at the top pulling up the full buckets hand over hand, just as people do when they get water from a well.  (See the pictures.)  They worked for 3 full days – even through very hot parts of the day!  Right now there is a wood plank over that hole so it is not yet in use.  I wonder if they will put in the barrel and lid and, if so, how they get it to stay in place!
Most things sold in the market have no packaging – as there would be none at a farmers’ market.  Plastic bags, though, are everywhere – and very thin ones so they break easily.  They become a menace because people drop them everywhere.  I usually carry my reusable bag(s) with me and try to have some smaller ones to avoid getting more. 

Fewer people have disposable income to buy packaged goods, but, still, the resulting trash is prevalent.  What about stuff that will decompose?  In Baboua, we started a compost pile.  One of the missionaries here often buries organic stuff in his garden.  In Pittsburgh, I had worms to eat this kind of garbage.  (They are now living and eating garbage at my sister’s house in Philadelphia!)  I think most people here just throw food waste out with the trash.  Recycling is not prevalent, but people do reuse plastic and glass bottles.  Some people even collect them and sell them in the market! 

Here’s hoping that you put out little garbage for the trash collectors.  I hope you are buying products with minimal packaging, recycling as much as possible, and composting as well!  We all need to pay attention. 

This subject reminds me of a Shel Silverstein poem that was a great favorite with my fourth graders in Pittsburgh, “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout, Would not Take the Garbage Out!”  If you don’t know it, check out this link:

Friday, April 5, 2013

What do you take for granted?

I have been thinking about the things that I take (or used to take) for granted.  Things that have been so much a part of my life that I no longer think twice about them – until there is a disruption of some kind.  So many of these things are rooted in my upbringing and experiences.  Here are some I have been reconsidering lately:

Electricity.  In the US, of course, I had electricity 24/7 – except in rare cases of a snow storm, a tree branch falling on local wires, etc.  In Baboua I got used to electricity from 6 – 10 p.m. and arranged to charge my computer and other gadgets during those hours – taking it for granted.  Then, just before we were evacuated, the generator on the station started having troubles.  I sat for a couple of nights in a disco-esque room with the light flashing on and off every second or so because the generator could not maintain a steady output of current.  Then, it quit altogether.  Fortunately, the Troesters, my next-door neighbors, have solar panels.  (I am go get some too, sometime…) So, I could still recharge my stuff and got into eating and reading by candle light.  Things are in process to get a new generator for the station, so, hopefully, by the time we go back, a new generator will, too.

Then we came to N’gaoundéré.  Here there is electricity all the time – sort of.  There are ever-increasing numbers of people living in town and getting on the grid, so there is often not enough voltage to run things without disruption.  For example, during the day, the florescent light in the kitchen works fine (not that I need it then!)  Once it gets dark, the light will blink repeatedly trying to come on, but rarely does.  The one in the living room comes on easily, but periodically – for example when the refrigerator cycles on – goes out for 30 – 60 seconds.  I end up sitting in the dark!  (So what’s the difference between the two lights?  I can’t explain it.)  I do know that the incandescent bulb in the light over the table works all the time (and gives much less light). 

Even with all these disruptions, I have electricity much more than many of the people in Cameroon and CAR.  Some never have it at all!  How often do you think about electricity?  Do you take it for granted?

Water.  We cannot live without water.  Clean water is a luxury for some although it has always been something I have taken for granted.  In Baboua (as in many places in Central Africa) a generator pumps water up into a water tower giving people access to it thanks to gravity.  So, maybe you can imagine what is coming next.  No generator in Baboua means no indoor plumbing and much more difficult access to water.  Fortunately, we borrowed a small generator to temporarily pump water. 

In my house in Baboua and in the guest houses here in N’gaoundéré, we have water filters by the sink to provide clean water.  We are blessed.  Do you know how many diseases are water-born?  (Many!)  However, sometimes here there is no water.  For two days in a row, there was water when I got up, but none in the middle of the day.  I think it is a problem similar to the one with electricity.  Too many people trying to use a water system designed for many fewer.  This picture is my kitchen sink in the morning after an evening with none (hence, dishes not washed).  The large pot in the left sink is to hold water for times when there is none from the tap.

I am also lucky to have a gas hot water heater which supplies the bathroom and kitchen.  The picture of the bathroom shows the water heater, gas bottle, and a bucket of water we keep for times when none comes out of the tap.

Even with these disruptions, I have water, and especially clean water, much more than many of the people in Cameroon and CAR.  Many still have to carry water from a well or the river.  How often do you think about water?  Do you take it for granted?

Internet.  I know computers and Internet are luxuries, but I have sure gotten to the place where I take them for granted!  I have found an USB Internet key or codes for WIFI systems of other missionaries to be able to communicate with home and get news.  I find ways to recharge the computer.  I am sure I could live without these things, but I don’t want to!

Many of the people in Cameroon and CAR have never had access to computers and Internet.  A few have irregular access.  How often do you think about computers and Internet?  Do you take them for granted?

Food Choices.  When we go into a supermarket in the US there are rows and rows of similar products with different brand names.  With global markets, we can get seasonal foods pretty much all year round.  Here there are fewer choices.  Many people don’t go to the small grocery stores that exist, or buy few items there because prices are higher for macaroni, canned goods, etc.  Mostly people “eat out of the market” buying locally grown products.  (A great idea, actually!  Go visit a farmers’ market this week…)

It is also different in the US because we don’t have to take time to clean small stones and dirt out of the rice (already cleaned in this picor beans before we prepare them.  Products come to our stores pre-cleaned, as it were.  Yes, it is best to wash fruits and vegetables in the US, but here they are more noticeably straight from the ground/farm. 

Restaurants, fast food places, and pre-packaged foods are also abundant in the US.  They exist here, but on much smaller scale.  They are also generally too expensive for most Cameroonians and Central Africans.

Have you thought about your food choices lately?  Do you take them for granted?

Lines.  I went with a friend to the hospital this week.  I couldn’t help but think about waiting and standing in line.  Yes, we wait to see a doctor or hospital staff, but we take it for granted that there will be a fair system to determine who is seen next.  Here lines exist, but if you know someone or feel that you are important enough, you just go to the front of the line and push your way in.  As a white person, I am often asked to go to the front of a line.  As much as possible I refuse and wait my turn – even when I get very annoyed because others push ahead. 

In the US doctors’ staff use patients’ charts to keep track of the order in which they arrived and are to be seen.  I have seen a similar system here.  People keep their own medical notebooks (which saves doctors and hospitals from having to store and organize them!)  People give their notebooks to someone and a pile is made.  Sometimes there is a small box outside the doctors’ door where patients put their notebooks.  The problem is that people don’t always put their notebook behind others already there.  People who collect them don’t keep them in any kind of regular order.  So it works, but not as well as most places in the US.  I did see a hospital in Yaoundé where you take a number and register or pay only when your number is called.  Sound familiar???

Have you complained about waiting and long lines?  Do you take it for granted that there are more efficient ways to move people and get what you need more quickly?

Roads.  OK, I won’t beat a dead horse – I know I have written about paved and unpaved roads various times in past blog entries.  But in the US, I took it for granted that roads would be paved (despite Pittsburgh pot holes…) and that cities would have sidewalks.  In Central Africa that is not the case.  Here’s a picture of the edge of one of the main roads in N’gaoundéré – uneven and hard for pedestrians to navigate. 

Walking is also harder in towns like this one because there are so many motorcycles, including many motorcycle taxis.  Although the law says that drivers of cars and motorcycles must have licenses, most motorcyclists (even the moto taxis) don’t have a license.  I am convinced they don’t know the rules of the road so they make up their own – cutting in front of others, passing on the left and right even when there doesn’t seem to be space, driving up the “sidewalk” on the wrong side of the road, etc. 

Since there are not street lights or traffic lights here, they use a system of round-abouts.  They work to help control the flow of traffic through intersections.  When the city has not built them, people put tires in the road to indicate the round-about.  Of course, some moto taxi drivers ignore them and go on whichever side of the tires that is most convenient for them…  And, sometimes the tires get placed off center or disappear for a while.  There are so many moto taxis because so few people can afford to own a motorcycle or a car. 
How much do you think about traffic and driving? Do you take your car(s) for granted??  Do you take it for granted that drivers will have a license and (most often) obey the rules? 

Parents:  By the way, today is my parents’ 61st wedding anniversary!  Wow!  What an accomplishment.  I have always taken their love and care for granted and hope they know that they can do the same with my love for them.