Sunday, October 27, 2013

Ant and Other Thoughts

Luther's Reformation.  October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, calling the Christian church to reform its practices so that they would be in line with the Word of God as written in the Bible.  It started the reformation and “protest”ant churches.  We still need to be constantly vigilant so that negative human desires don’t overwhelm us.  We need to insist that those who govern do so justly and fairly.  We must work to counter the tendency toward greed, vengeance, and power-grabbing.  (OK.  It’s Sunday, but you don’t need a sermon here!

I am thinking of these things now because the situation in CAR which seemed to be improving has slipped.  Rebels have attached the military base in Bouar.  This is the town where the headquarters of the Evangelical Lutheran Church – Central African Republic are located.  Friends and colleagues live there so it hits closer to home for me – but it is another of the sporadic outburst of violence in the country.  It is true that countries in the region have sent troops to help disarm the rebels.  I have heard that the process has been working well in the capital, Bangui.  I had been hopeful that the process would spread out and bring calm and security to the whole country.  Unfortunately, the telephone network is not working well and most calls I try to make into Bouar have not gone through.  Through others, I have heard that our colleagues are OK.  Many took refuge in a local church or in the fields. 

Already, October 27, 2013 was designated as a day that all people, of ALL faiths, pray for peace in the CAR.  The need is even greater now than before.  Pray and work for peace.

On a lighter note
  I decided to write about them despite the depressing news from the country next door.   

Food spot on a "clean" counter
Just past the steps of the back porch of my guest house, black ants that are about ¼ inch long have made a nest.  It is a hole in the ground with a mound of dirt around it.  They made a trough along which they walk – on the way to find food I suppose.  It is fascinating to watch them scurry past.  I am glad they are not in the house, though.

Toothpaste spot - bathroom sink
On a walk yesterday, I saw a trail of other black ants about ½ inch long.  Following each other and crossing the road as if they owned it!  We, of course, stepped over them.  I am very glad they are not in my house either!

knife in kitchen sink
The ones that are currently in my house – and everywhere – are the very tiny reddish ones (maybe 1/8 inch).  I have heard them called sugar ants.  That seems to be true.  If I leave a juice glass in the sink, within in an hour it will be swarming with these ants.  They also go for the sugar cubes other sweet things.  On the other hand, they like other things, too: grilled peanuts, greasy pots, toothpaste, open ends of bananas and avocado…  I have created a “devise” to keep them from foods I don’t want to refrigerate. There is water in the bottom bowl which keeps the ants away from the top plate (here with the banana). 
I am convinced that they also like the heat of my computer, but I can swear to that.  I do know that as I am working on the computer, from time to time, a small ant will be crawling on the middle of my computer screen.  I don’t see it come from the edge; it just appears in the middle.  In the same way, all of the sudden there will be one on my wrist or the middle of my arm.  These ants just appear! I swear.  I think they can teleport… 

The ants certainly encourage me to do the dishes immediately after I eat (or cook).  Who wants a sink full of tiny ants! They have been helping me learn how well I wash dishes, too.  If I am not thorough enough, I will find the ants crawling all over what I thought was a clean plate or pot in the drying rack.  I must have missed something they can find….  When I rewash the dish/pot, I can usually get it cleaner so the ants don’t do follow-up cleaning. 

It seems impossible to get rid of the ants, so mostly I co-exist with them.  They are on tables, chairs, the bed, books…  Fortunately, there are only a couple “passing through” unless I forget to (or incompletely) wipe up a spill.  They don’t bite or make noise, fortunately.

Did you ever wonder how ants find the sugary foods or spots?  I know it has to do with pheromones that they leave as a trail, but can they smell the foods?  How can they get there en masse so fast?  How can they crawl up and across walls? They must have a nest, but I don’t know where.  (I am hoping it is somewhere outside.)    

Well, I am sure I will continue to watch and wonder about ants since they are ever present.  The rainy season is soon coming to an end.  I wonder if I will see as many ants in the dry season.  Time will tell!

Focusing on the small wonders of God’s kingdom has helped me in this time of worry about the situation in Bouar.  Maybe we can learn to work together like ants do.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Reflecting on Isaiah 2:1-5

I had a request to write about one of the texts for the up-coming Advent season – with input from Central Africans.  It is hard for me to get that input since time I have there or they have here in GB is take up with a list of other topics.  So, I went for the next best thing – the class I am teaching at the Lutheran Theological and Biblical Training School.  I am teaching two hours once a week to introduce future catechists to the basic principles of pedagogy – for children and adults using catechism as the content. 

So, last week I have them a homework assignment to read, analyze, and reflect on the text cited below. (Pictures provide examples and non-examples of Isaiah’s vision in this text.)

Isaiah 2:1-5
Essaie 2:1-15
1The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem
2It shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the house of the
Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
And shall be raised above the hills;
And all the nations shall flow to it,
3And many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That he may teach us his ways
And that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4He shall judge between the nations,
And shall decide for many peoples;
And they shall bet their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war any more.
5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk
In the light of the Lord.
1Prophétie d’Esaie, fils d’Amots, sur Juda et Jérusalem.
2Il arrivera, dans la suite des temps,
Que la montagne de la maison de l’Éternel
Sera fondée sur le sommet des montagnes,
Qu’elle s’élèvera par-dessus les collines,
Et que toutes les nations y afflueront,
3Des peuples s’y rendront en foule, et diront :
Venez, et montons a la montagne de l’Éternel,
A la maison de Dieu de Jacob,
Afin qu’il nous enseigne ses voies,
Et que nous marchions dans ses sentiers.
Car de Sion sortira la loi,
Et de Jérusalem la parole de l’éternel.
4Il sera le juge des nations,
L’arbitre d’un grand nombre de peuples.
De leurs glaives ils forgeront des hoyaux, Et de leurs lance des serpes ;
Une nation ne tirera plus l’épée contre une autre,
Et l’on n’apprendra plus la guerre.
5Maison de Jacob, Venez, et marchons
À la lumière de l’Éternel. 

Teachers among you will know that giving and assignment that is very clear in your mind does not mean that the students will understand it in the same way!  It was clear to me that when I asked them to identify what learners would need to know to understand the text I was thinking of the key points – literally and ways we can interpret the text to help others understand.  All of the papers I got this week took the example we had done in class the week before and modeled their work on that – not what I had meant at all!  I just laughed.

I had planned a 10-15 min. review of what they had done, but it turned into a 45 min. lesson with discussion.  They were distraught to have misunderstood.  I explained that that was part of pedagogy/teaching.  I can see now part of the reason it happened.  They are not reflective, nor used to applying knowledge they are given in class.  That is much more a way of learning we use in the US than it is here in Cameroon.  So, they wrote what they thought I was asking, based on their understanding and it didn’t match my expectations at all!  A learning experience for all. 

The homework also asked for their ideas about how we can apply the ideas in the text to make this world closer to Isaiah’s vision.  Here are some of their ideas.  

  • Use language and behavior toward others, especially in our Christian community, that are a model for others.
  • Building a roof together, Bohong, CAR, 10/2012
    •  Pray (I can't get the bullets to match! Please ignore)
    • Love our neighbors
    • Teach catechism so that they stand strong in their Christian faith
    • Teach people to walk together in the light of the Lord
    • Obey and respect the commandments
    • Do God’s will
    • Live our lives in Christ
    • Live in peace with those around you
    • Believe in God and obey Him
    • Teach others to fear God and to follow Him
    Destruction in Bohong, 9/2013
    •  Be servants of God as Isaiah was  (More spacing problems.  Please ignore!  Why won't this work for me today!!)
    During this class I also learned (again) that sometimes we need to step back from our original plan so that we can go forward together.  Here are some other questions I asked for which I got unexpected answers:
    Hoe for working in fields, GB Cameroon
  • What season is this?  Answer I expected – Pentecost.  They said – the time to give Harvest Offerings.  Each year in October, the various groups of a congregation collect money and gifts to offer as a part of this observance.
  • What is Advent?  The time of preparation (as expected!)  Preparation for what? God.  Well, OK, but I expected them to say for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
  • How long is Advent?  Various answers: 2 week? 3 weeks?  I hope you know the real answer to that question – 4 weeks.

We must never forget that learners know things, but don’t always know they know – and sometimes know incompletely.  This is why we all need to become life-long learners.  There is always more to understand that will help us live better lives. 

Bible School Director and others working in fields, GB, Cameroon
So, as Advent approaches, maybe you can meditation on the question that I asked these Bible School students: 

What can we teach or do to help bring Isaiah’s vision closer to reality in our world?  Try to think of specific examples that we can put into practice.  (I didn’t add that part for the students, but wish I would have.  We all need to consider our specific actions and their consequences.)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Festivial of the Sheep

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 will be the Moslem Festival of the Sheep (as they call it here in Cameroon). It is also known as the Festival of Sacrifice.

I went to the internet to get a little more information.  It says, "The celebration of Eid-Ul-Adha is in commemoration of the command given by Allah to Prophet Abraham (may Allah be pleased with him) to sacrifice his first born son Ishmael to Him. The fulfillment of this noble command of Allah by Abraham signifies his faith in Allah...."

It is always celebrated after a hajj (trip to the Holy Land) that all Moslems must make if they have good health and sufficient money.  Here it is celebrated by all Moslems.

According to a friend here in Garoua Boulai, the celebration will be held in a large open field near town.  There will be prayers, a sermon by the Imam, and the preparation of a sheep that the Imam will eat there.  Everyone else will return home after the religious ceremony and eat their sheep there – provided that they can afford to pay for one. 

(This is just the basics of the holiday.  I encourage you to talk to a Moslem to get more details or to check it out on the web.)

Another Moslem friend asked me why Christians don’t celebrate this day since the story of Abraham is part of our Old Testament (although we say Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac…)  I answered that Jesus is known as the Lamb of God because he willingly sacrificed himself for us on the cross.  All other sacrifice is no longer needed since He did it once and for us all. 

The 3 religions “of the Book” – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share many common roots and beliefs.  May we see our similarities this week instead of focusing on the differences. 

Note:  A short blog entry this week since I have been very busy meeting with Central Africans here in GB – completing ELCA scholarship applications, discussing how to create monthly reports that are complete and helpful, and talking about how 2014 planning and budgeting must be linked.  Generally productive meetings, but over lots of hours. 

P.S.  No wonder there have been so many new “lawnmowers” around my house!  Being fattened up for Tuesday! 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Closing Ceremony

The Village School Program's teacher training is complete for 2013!  Two two-week sessions – one in Abba and one in Baboua.  Yesterday was the closing ceremony in Baboua and I had the honor to be present.

Ok.  It is an honor.  And, I was able to go to Baboua for the day. (There and back – even easier than the last time!) This kind of ceremony is important to many people. (But I have never really liked them.)  Here’s what this one was like.

People gathered outside the school room that was used for teacher training and would now be the place for the ceremony.  Teachers from both sessions were invited, but it was mostly the teachers who attended in Baboua who were present.  According to Cameroonian and Central African protocol, people are to arrive in the order of their importance.  (This comes from the French, I think.)  Here was the “Ordre de Jour” (program, translated into English with occasional comments).

        8:00 a.m.     Arrival of Participants
        8:15 a.m.     Arrival of Trainers (I arrived at 8:30.)
        8:30 a.m.     Arrival of the Director of the CPR (state education organization)
        8:45 a.m.     Arrival of the Village School Program Leaders
        8:55 a.m.     Arrival of the mayor (couldn’t attend because of a funeral)
        9:00 a.m.     Arrival of the Sous-Prefet (local governmental official, unable to attend)

2 "thankers" - standing and seated (left)
v  Welcome by the Principal of Péouri School (where we met. We started at 8:45 since all were present.)
v  Reading (This seems to be the greeting of people by name and opening remarks, done by the VSP director since the governmental officials couldn’t be present.)
v  Motions of Thanks for CPR, VSP, ELCA, and IAO Here’s a sample.
Words of Thanks
We, the participants of the teacher training of the Village School Program held from September 9 to October 5, 2013 in Abba and Baboua, thank, with all our hearts, our partners, in particular ELCA, for their material and financial support which made this training possible.
Written in Baboua October 5, 2013
Reading recommendations
v  Recommendations
The participants of the teacher training of the Village School Program, held in Abba and Baboua from September 9 to October 5, 2013, recommend:
1. Follow-up and evaluation of teachers’ use of what we learned during this training.
2. Regular training sessions
3. Improvement of present working conditions, specifically: health, lodging, salaries, and Summer stipends of the Village School Program
4. Collaboration to improve mutual understanding among teachers,  among teachers and parents, and teachers and school officials.
Written in Baboua, October 5, 2013
The Participants (They certainly covered all problem areas!  I would have appreciated specific suggestions, but that’s my American way of seeing things…)
Director, CPR
v  Remarks :
Director, CPR
Education Advisor, ELCA (me!)
Director, VSP
Sous-Prefet (eliminated)
v  Distribution of certificates. 
I prepared some comments that congratulated them on completing the school year last year despite very difficult conditions and for completing the training and preparation for the start of school Monday.  (They will start classes as quickly as possible, but starting school also includes cutting the grass at the school, cleaning benches, repairing the “hangars” (open-walled classrooms), etc.  The state schools are also slated to start
Oct. 7, but we are not sure how many will.  Catholic schools started Oct. 1.) 

I then read the story of the 10 Virgins from Matthew 25:1-13 that talks about the 5 wise women who took extra oil and the 5 foolish women who took no extra oil and eventually got left out of the wedding feast. I told them that, as a teacher, one of my favorite questions is “why?”  So I asked them why they thought I shared this story with them.  They got the point that we need to be the “wise” ones – having what we need and using resources wisely so that the students benefit and we can act out Christ’s love for us through our work.  Interestingly, as in their recommendations, I included relationship among all participants and effective use of financial and material support.  (My talk seemed to be well received and many copied down the biblical reference.)
VSP Director, right, and a participant

As participants came to the front for their certificates as their names were called, different “officials” (presenters, local leaders of the Parent Organization, and me) handed each person his certificate and shook his hand and/or bumped heads. (Unfortunately, there are currently no female teachers.  I’d like to see that change, but it is difficult for many reasons…) 

“Head bumping?” you ask.  Yes, there’s kisses on the cheek(s) 1, 2, or 3 times (French), “air kissing” (other cultures’ imitation of the French?), shaking hands, embracing, and the Central African/Cameroonian version which is to touch heads.  You touch your right forehead to his left forehead once and then your left forehead to his right twice.  It is used among friends/people you know pretty well.  Although I greet people I know this way, I didn’t do it at this ceremony.  (I felt strange and wasn’t sure it was appropriate.  Anyway, no one seemed to have a problem that I didn’t.)

After the ceremony, there were refreshments.  In the US, we would expect cake, cookies, coffee, or something of this nature.  Here some women prepared meat in a sauce (with lots of oil), biscuits, and grilled peanuts.  They also had soda and beer (yes, at 9:30 a.m.!)  The officials ate first and later the participants.  (Hierarchy again…)

I have to say that eating meat (beef, chicken, and antelope or other animal from the bush) here is a challenge.  While the flavor of this meat was very nice, it was tough.  I had to take small pieces which had to be chewed for at least 5 minutes.  I did like it, though.  (I can say, by comparison, that the meat with a sauce with a few leaves that we had after the next meeting was so tough I couldn’t take a small bite and discretely left it uneaten. I liked that sauce better though…) 

So, why do you think that meat here is so tough when what we eat in the US is not?  (There it is again, my favorite question!)

After eating and before the closing was really over, I left to go to the Education Committee meeting of the EEL-RCA (held twice a year).  I was very glad to be part of the discussions which lasted until about 2:20.  We were then fed and I met with several people individually before I left at 3:30 to return to Garoua Boulai.

People to see, places to go, I didn’t even have time to visit my house!  (Although I took a short break during the education meeting to take a sick baby to the hospital.)  Still, it was a full, productive, and enjoyable day.