Saturday, September 20, 2014

Roofing the Church, Part 2 and Other News

Roofing the Church, Part 2

Yesterday I had the chance to visit the Garouaseye Evangelical Lutheran Church here in Garoua Boulai.  This is the church that was to have a new roof put on with the group who was here from South Dakota.   I wrote about the trip in a blog on Feb. 26, 2014.  Then, the walls collapsed as everyone was working on the roof construction.  I am happy to say that the few people who were injured are well again and back working on the church!

I believe that the building will be even larger than the last time.  As you can see in the pictures, though, there is are many more supports and buttresses.  It looks solid and strong.  The workers had advice from an architect and others from N’gaoundéré to be sure the building would stand this time!  They are almost ready for the roof. I am including a photo of the current church for comparison.

Other News

Thursday and Friday the new Sous-Prefet for this region visited institutions and stores in town.  He came to the Protestant Hospital Thursday and the Bible School Friday.  (I happened to be at the hospital so was introduced there and then was present at the Bible School since teach one course there.)  There were about twenty people in the entourage and I didn’t want to take a picture of him/them.  (Too many military and police to do that without express permission!)  I did take a picture of Bible School people.  The first photo shows the new Director (and Regional Bishop) Garga-Zizi; the Accountant and teacher Pastor Nguia; and a new professor Pastor Djomo (who came from N’gaoundéré).  The other picture is the 16 new students who will train to be catechists.  There should be 17 in the picture since Leonel who started last year is also present.  I am happy to see that there is one woman in the class.  (Not enough for me, really, but better than none.)

I spent more time shopping in the market the other day.  (No pictures; I didn’t think of it.)  Not only do some butchers have new tile tables, the center part of the market has the old tables with more butchers selling meat. I hear that they will soon be getting tile counters as well – they are being made, I’m told.  The women who sell manioc, greens, and other items, as well as some men who have small tables of miscellaneous items, have been moved outside the major square of stores. There is more room there and covered wooden stalls are being constructed.  There seem to be many more sellers overall – must be the increased number of people in town because of the refugees and other Central Africans.  Similar choice of items for sale, just people more selling it.

I put maps on the walls of my living/dining room/office.  I can now see CAR, Cameroon, the world, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Iowa, and Louisiana. (If those of you from Texas would like to be represented as well, please send a road map!)  What I did with my summer vacation…

Speaking of more…  There is more laundry drying on the lawn and fences near the hospital – because of the increased number of patients (many refugees) in the hospital and Doctors Without Borders Clinic.  There is also a lot more mud!  It has been raining – hard – daily, and often for hours.  These increased rains mean the dry season is almost upon us.  It will be easier to get around, dustier, and hotter.  And, a break from the mud.... 
Seasons will be changing soon in the USA.  I will miss the autumn leaves changing, but not the cold. J

Stay well.  Be active in service: God’s Work, Our Hands.  Pray for peace, especially in the CAR.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Wow. What an outpouring of support.
Yesterday, I was diligently working with a Central African who is applying for an ELCA scholarship.  (It is long and in English.  In addition, he must complete an even longer application for the institute where he wants to study.)  There was a knock at the door and there, to my astonishment, were 12 of my Central African colleagues from Baboua. (One more came later.)

They had come to express their condolences on the loss of my father and to welcome me back.  It is part of a “deuil.”  This is the French word for mourning, but includes going to visit the family who has lost a loved one.  People sit together to share the grief.  We sang a hymn in Sango.  I am still overwhelmed each time I hear the beautiful singing in harmony!  (One woman even found the hymn in the Sango songbook so I could sing along.) Then Dr. Antoinette and Pastor Tongo prayed.  We ended this mini-service with the Lord’s Prayer and a benediction. 

I cannot express enough how moved I was/am.  They all travelled 50 km. (30 miles) along a road that sometimes still has bandits that stop cars to demand money.  They all came.  They said I was far away when the traditional mourning time passed, so they came now.  It still brings tears to my eyes.  What an outpouring of support and love.  How thoughtful and caring.  God bless them all.

I have to admit that I took a little time to talk about current work issues. J  After all, for about ten days the telephone network in Baboua has not been working much.  Occasionally, I can have a one-minute conversation.  Literally.  After 60 seconds the call drops and I can’t reconnect.  Not a good way to get news or do work!  We were able to share news and set up some visits for longer meetings next week.  And, yes, after people left, Paul and I finished the work we needed to do for the scholarship application.

I am so privileged to work with such a dedicated and supportive team.  

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Changes in Garoua Boulai

I am back home!  I arrived in Garoua Boulai Monday evening about 7 p.m. after a full day of travel from Yaoundé.  Willie Langdji came, too, for various meetings.  So, the next few days were full of meetings many of which I also attended.

Four members of the Central African Evangelical Lutheran Church came for meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday to evaluate Humanitarian Aid efforts so far and plan next steps.  We also discussed various other aspects of their work and our partnership.  There were also meetings about the station, ELCA finances (I got to meet the new administrator SANDA Elie), and about the palm oil farm project run by the Bible School here in Garoua Boulai.

Dr. Solofo & Willie

We also visited the Protestant Hospital to see changes and planned changes.  About ½ of the patients are currently refugees from CAR.  For some time MSF (Medecins Sans Frontiere – Doctors Without Borders) have been partnering with the hospital.  They are using, and have greatly extended, the hospital’s nutrition center.  What impressive work they do!  They have about 245 workers in this camp, the local state hospital, and the refugee camp at Gado.  Their main work is treating malnourished children.  If the children have other illnesses as well as malnutrition, they are brought to the CNTI (Nutrition Center) at the hospital.  First their illness is treated and they the focus shifts to the malnutrition.  A family member, often the mother, stays with each child.  MSF is currently treating between 80 and 90 children at the center, receiving about 30 new cases per week and releasing about the same number.  I have always been impressed with the dedication and quality of their work, but I must stay, I am even more impressed seeing it up close.  I can say, too, that the hospital is growing and changing to effectively handle all the additional work.  Thanks to ELCA, MSF, and other emergency aid, many more people are being healed. 

Since Willie left Thursday morning, I have had met with various other people and talked to more on the phone – reestablishing contacts.  Yes! (Fist pump here…)  Today I am meeting two Lutheran World Federation people who are coming from N’gaoundéré and will also visit Bertoua.  They are looking at Cameroon’s needs because of the high number of refugees.  They will visit the hospital and MSF center and meet with the regional bishop of the Cameroonian Evangelical Lutheran Church. I’ll be helping interpret for this meeting.

Unfortunately, I have had limited contact with leadership teams in Baboua.  The telephone network has been down for more than a week.  On two different days I have had a 1-minute conversation with someone before the call dropped with no possibility for reconnecting.  Maybe it will be fixed soon…

I have been able to walk into town on several days, but each time had to cut the time short and hurry home because of the threat of rain – which began to fall as I walked home or just after I got here.  Here are some changes I have noticed in these brief times:  The meat stalls in the market are now tile instead of wood!  A great improvement since the wood took in the blood, juices, etc.; I am sure germs prospered – and it sure stunk!  These tile stalls will be much easier to clean and much less germ-producing.  (I have not yet bought any meat – or much else in the market since food was provided on Tuesday and Wednesday and since then I have eaten some left overs.  Today I have to start cooking again… 

June and Phil Nelson have returned to their home in North Dakota.  I am grateful to have been able to buy a lamp (no light bulb yet – it’s one of the things I haven’t yet gotten from town), iron, and microwave from them.  Yes!  Now I need to figure out how to run the microwave (written in Norwegian or some language I don’t understand). 

I am also having a small table made for it to sit on.  Currently it takes up 1/3 of my limited counter space.  If I were in PA, I would head to the thrift store or maybe a furniture store for a suitable table.  Since those don’t exist here, I’ll have it made!  I am having another smaller table made, too, for the living/dining/office area. 

I have decided that I want to decorate some walls (not yet sure where) with maps of places I visited this summer as well as CAR and Cameroon.  Personalize things a bit and help me remind me of where I work and where supporters are.  Picture at some later date…  Here’s a picture, though, of the hood of the truck closest to the house.  Who can resist using a dirty truck/car as a drawing board?? (Done before my arrival… and I did wash it off…)

I am also rearranging and unpacking and getting reoriented to life and work here.  I can say, for sure, that I am pleased to be back.  The welcome has been very warm.  It is good to be home. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014


Buying a Computer
So, what do you think about when you want to buy a computer?  Here are some possible questions: 
online or in a store?  How much RAM?  Which features?  How fast?  Mac or PC?

Buying a computer is a different experience in Yaoundé.  One must go to a reputable store because a lot of computers are sold with pirated software that can cause problems in the long run.  And, online orders would most likely be stolen.  That means, there are a lot fewer choices of models.  The first store we went to had only two HP models.  The next store had about ten models of varying power and price.  Both times the primary criteria was price with some consideration of features. 

Ah, price.  Nothing is fixed here and I am not a good negotiator.  I get fed up and just want to pay whatever; I am sure that is because I didn’t grow up with this system.  The process is also a question of patience.  Fortunately, Willie Langdji went with me.  He has bought them before for programs and is a good haggler.  We finally bought an Acer machine with case.  The starting price was 350,000 and we got it for 280,000 with a (Toshiba) case thrown in. And, a can of juice for each of us once the deal was struck.

So why buy it here?  Computers may be cheaper in the US, but they are all in English.  Here the operating system and software are in French – better for those using them here.  The power cord is also set for the electric system here.  And, that’s 5-8 pounds less weight to carry on the trip over! 

This computer was purchased with money from my home church, East Liberty Lutheran Church, designated to help with computer training for the Central African Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Next, once I am in Garoua Boulai, I’ll think about the logistics of the class.

I have done less walking in Yaoundé than Brussels, but still try to walk as I can.  Mostly that has meant walking along a very busy main street.  Yesterday, about a ten-minute walk from the house, I walked past a brewery.  I think this is where they make several varieties of beer: Castel, 33, Beaufort, Mutzing, and a dark on like Guinness (at least these are the beers generally available).  The large Coke can out front tells me they may also bottle those products and other sodas.  The other day we saw a tanker truck taking liquid from one side of the road to the other.  It is a huge place.  Here are a few pictures.  Make you thirsty??

Many roads in Yaoundé are paved, but some are not.  And, the paved ones sometimes have pot holes (the unpaved ones certainly have many ruts and holes).  I am happy to see that there is one completed newly-paved road and another in process.  Here’s a picture of some of the equipment.  As they work on the road, cars can’t pass (usually), but motorcycle taxis do weave among the workers and equipment to deliver passengers…  There also seems to be a lot of building construction.  Progress?!?

On my walk, I stopped in a grocery store – not because I needed something, but just because.  For bigger stores here (not the little boutique kind), there is often a bakery at the entrance.  You can buy bread, cakes, and pastries.  Then you enters the main part of the store (past the check-out counters).  They sell lots of canned and packages goods.  Some stores sell veggies and fruits.  What I think is interesting is that if I don’t pick up a basket, very soon an employee brings me one.  Then, sometimes, that person follows me around carrying the basket – as a service.  So different than the US when you are only followed around if the employee thinks you are shoplifting...  I can’t say I am comfortable with the help!

To Garoua Boulai

Tomorrow Willie and I head to GB.  There will be meetings with church leaders Tuesday and Wednesday then he will return to Yaoundé and I will begin to settle into my “regular” work.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Bus Travel 
I got to take my first bus ride in Cameroon!  I arrived at the airport in Yaoundé on Sunday evening and left on an 8 a.m. bus the next morning.  Because I wanted a ticket for the VIP bus, we had to arrange for someone to buy it in advance.  The VIP buses are express ones that make very few stops – well worth the couple of extra dollars for the ticket; they are generally sold out early.  So, I took one going to Bamenda and coming back – different experiences.  (Sorry, I didn't think to take any pictures!)  The other option is the regular bus, which is similar/the same as the one I took to Bamenda, but it is the “milk route” – stopping many places and taking much longer.  

View from Cabtel 
(Bamenda is a town in Anglophone West Cameroon which is the capital of the province.  It is fairly large although I saw little of it.  Our seminar was held at the Cabtel (Cameroonian Bible translation organization) training center which is several miles from the center of town.)

Going to Bamenda, I was traveling alone since the training started Monday and others from Yaoundé traveled Sunday.  I had arranged with a taxi driver to get me to the bus station and someone connected to the seminar got my ticket early.  The bus was mid-size with windows that slide open.  On one side were three seats and on the other side of the aisle, two.  I have to say, though, that the seats were narrow.  Three adults across would leave little room to move (or breath, I think).  Fortunately, I was by the window and a man with his child (about 8 or 9) sat in the other two seats.  We were fairly comfortable.

The trip took about 7 ½ hours.  The road is paved and good for much of the distance.  Still, this is not paved superhighways like in the US.  They are two lane roads that go through towns.  There aren't the traffic lights that a comparable road in the US would have, but traffic, pedestrians, and speed bumps do require reduced speed through towns.

After about three hours we stopped in Makanene.  This seems to be the place where most buses stop.  There is a public bathroom and market.  One pays about $0.20 to use the toilet and gets toilet paper.  The toilets don’t seem to flush but the places was pretty clean.  Lots of snacks are available at the market: soya (grilled meat), oranges, bananas, vegetables, cookies, etc.  It is the town’s market which has some added stands catering to travelers. 

The worst of the road was around Bamenda – more pot holes.  A light rain had also started.  Still, it was an uneventful trip.

Leaving Bamenda, there were seven of us, all participants or leaders of the seminar.  One person got the tickets the day before.  This time it was a big bus with two seats on each side of the aisle.  More seat and leg room too.  These windows did not open, but there were two sun roofs which were opened; air circulated well when we were moving.  This trip took about 15 minutes less time, but that was because we stopped for 15 minutes less in Makanene.  The seats were definitely more comfortable.  Also an uneventful trip.  J

Trauma Healing Seminar
There is so much trauma in the world – grief, displacement, domestic violence, war, rape, suicide (trauma for the person before the act and for those close to the person afterwards).  We need information and ways to help those facing trauma to heal.  This seminar developed by SIL and now organized/managed by Bible Societies (such as the American Bible Society) is a wonderful resource. 

We attended the “Equipping” seminar which is designed for people who may, in the future, teach others the process.  At the same time, we experienced the lessons and learned how to lead a Healing Group.  Now that we have finished this part, we are each to run at least one healing group in our community.  Next summer we will get together again for the Advanced Seminar at which time we can be certified to train others. 

The course has 11 lessons (although new ones are being added for topics such as domestic violence and suicide).  Five are core lessons and required; the others are optional and are chosen according to the needs of the participants.  The method of teaching includes a lot of small group participation as people tell their stories and consider different aspects of trauma and its consequences.  This includes learning to listen, finding ways to pray, and talking about forgiveness of those who cause the trauma.  

Each lesson lasts about 90 minutes.  We were also given basic instructions for organizing and running a healing group.  This process enabled healing to start for participants of this seminar and also equipped us to teach the basic course.  Participants included pastors, those who work with widows and/or orphans, and teachers, about 30 in all including the 6 presenters (who also participated – one per small group).

Each day we were provided breakfast (dry bread, coffee, and tea), lunch, two breaks, and dinner.  The meals were African food often with greens and ground nut or squash seed sauces, lots of plantains, some rice, and fruit – watermelon and bananas.  I enjoyed it. (Well, to be honest, the not-high quality bread with nothing on it for breakfast got old, but it did break the fast and give energy for the morning!)  

Patience, roommate

Dormitory Building
Laura, roommate

We stayed in dormitory rooms, very small by US standards.  There was a double bed, two bunk beds, two small tables (with one desk lamp) and one chair.  With this furniture there was little extra floor space to move around and no easy place to put a suitcase.  There was a small bathroom off the bedrooms – two bedrooms share one bathroom with a door to each.  I was glad to have running water for a sink, toilet, and shower just off the room.  (Other dorm rooms have at least the toilet in the hall outside the rooms.)  There is a button that is supposed to turn on the hot water, but it didn't.  Even with a shower, I find it more comfortable to take a bucket bath with cold water…  Still, we could be clean.

Bamenda is in the hills of western Cameroon.  That means that the temperatures are cooler than Yaoundé and the south and warmer than places (like Ndop) that are higher in the hills.  Temperatures were probably in the 60s although when the sun shone it was probably in the 70s.  A light jacket or sweater was appropriate for the mornings – and some wore them all day.  We used a blanket at night.

I am looking forward to organizing and leading a Healing Group when I get back to Garoua Boulai.  I am sure there is need, especially with the number of Central African refugees in town.  We also hope to train Central Africans in the process so that trauma healing can begin in that country still torn by killing, looting, and extortion.  Five EEL-RCA members were to attend this seminar, but could not get visas in time.  Fortunately, SIL is organizing another Trauma Healing Seminar in Bangui in November.  It will be in French, even better for church members.  And, maybe we can have more people participate.  The need is great.

Please continue to pray for peace in CAR.  It would be great if you could add Healing Groups and those facing trauma to your prayers.  We all need support in this process. 

Good News Update!

The Village School Program’s yearly teacher training starts today!  Despite continued insecurity and difficulties in the country, the church’s work continues.  It is our plan that the village schools start on time.  Pray for safe travel and open minds for the teachers and presenters during their two week training period.