Sunday, December 20, 2015

Gifts and Preparations

A Christmas tradition worldwide is to give gifts.  Jesus was a gift to the world.  The wise men brought him gifts.  St Nicholas who died in 343 became known, in part, because he gave gifts.  So, today, we give gifts too at Christmas time.

Yes, I know many complain that Christmas has become too commercial.  Even those who don’t celebrate Jesus’ birth go into debt to buy lots of (especially name-brand or up-to-the-minute) “stuff.”  But, the distortion of a tradition doesn’t negate its basic value even if it might influence the ways we give (or ask for) gifts.

Since I have been in Garoua Boulai, I have tried to find gifts that meet the needs of the recipients and to give something small to those Isee the most often.  I am giving the Bible School students ibuprofen because they don’t have basic medicines, mostly because they have so little money.  I am including directions for its use.  I even wrapped them up in old yogurt containers.  (No, each is not full of medicine, but the container is also a small gift.)  I have baked pumpkin pies and ginger snaps that I am sharing with friends – both Christian and Muslim. 

I know that others like to give gifts, too, even if they don’t have the means to give much.  So, I requested a gift from the Bible School students and their spouses.  During morning meditations, they sing beautifully and in harmony.  I asked them to come 15 minutes early to a meditation one day so that they could sing four hymns (in Gbaya) which they often sing and that have become favorites of mine.  They were overjoyed to do it! How do I know?  Instead of 15 minutes early, they showed up 6:45 – 45 minutes before the meditation!  At 7:05 they sent the class president to my house to say they were ready and waiting for me.  (This, from students who are often late for the 7:30 meditation, class, meetings, etc.)  They sang with gusto and even borrowed a drum to accompany the songs!  I am thrilled with my present.

We also took pictures of the students and their families in front of their houses.  That was for me, too, although I am sharing the photos and songs with any student who can bring a USB flash drive. 

I attended the children’s Christmas pageant.  OK, it was part of OSEELC Week that I wrote about recently, but the children of hospital employees, directed by Dr. Joely, sang Christmas songs in Malagasy, English, and French.  They also retold (in French) the Christmas story.  Well done. 

Special meals are also a tradition for the Christmas season – in the USA and Cameroon/CAR.  I will be sharing Christmas dinner with Dr. Solofo and Dr. Joely.  I think someone has been trying to help me out; several cattle have been grazing (and lowing) around my house.  This week, three have decided that my carport is a great place to be.  I figure if they use my space and leave me cow pies (presents?), they must be gifts that I can use for Christmas dinner, no??  (Well, maybe not.  I would have to butcher them myself and the owners might be upset.  I guess it would be better to try to find the owners and get them to control where their cattle go.)

Here, like in the USA, gifts for kids are meant to be a surprise.  I am keeping a couple of dolls and some blocks for a neighbor.  She will get a surprise, too, since I have wrapped them in Christmas paper and added a small “Santa Claus” gift.

I consider it a great gift that I could talk to the Pittsburgh Ragin’ Grannies last Wednesday for 40 minutes during their holiday gathering.  Yes, I had to call at 1:30 a.m. my time, but it was well worth it!  Love the new “no guns” version of the gaggle song.  Thanks for all the news and good wishes.

My new computer, camera, passport, etc. are in Yaoundé!  I can’t really call them presents since the insurance and I paid for them after the theft at my house, but I can say it will be like Christmas after they come the last eight hours to GB.  Thanks to Willie Langdji who brought most of my new “stuff” from the USA after his meeting in Chicago.  (I’m not sure yet when or how they will make the last leg of the journey.)

Other preparations.  I have never really gotten into doing a lot of decorating for Christmas.  In Pittsburgh, I used the excuse that I usually left my house to be with family for the holiday.  I don’t have that excuse here.  I could say that it’s because it’s not cold and snowy.  (Of course, from what I hear it isn’t cold or snowy in Pennsylvania now either!  Temperatures in the 60s.)  It is hot and sunny (up to the mid/upper 80s during the day, even if it gets down to 55-60 at night), so it doesn’t “feel” like Christmas here.  It’s probably safer to say that I am just lazy…  Why put up stuff that you just have to take down in a couple of weeks??  I did get a carved crèche scene last year.  I so have put it and the hot mitt with Father Christmas out, so I have decorated!  (The hot mitt belongs to the guest house; I found it here…)

Advent is not big here (although it has been mentioned in a couple of sermons).  Christmas carols aren’t very common either.  That is, they exist, but I rarely hear them.  Children, though, go around the neighborhood singing on Christmas Eve.  They are given candy or small coins for their efforts.  I have some candy ready.

I am preparing as I can and reflecting on Jesus’ teaching – ways we can better follow his example wherever we are as we wait for his second coming and the celebration of his birth: feed the hunger, give drink to the thirsty, clothe those without, visit the sick and imprisoned.  Treat all as our neighbors, especially those who are different in culture and religion.

Blessed Advent and an early Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 12, 2015


A democracy requires elections, but not all elections are the same.  I am thinking about election issues because presidential candidates’ campaigns in the USA are heating up. They are in the news constantly.  And, worse, one hears accusations, condemnations, false statements stated as truth, etc., etc.  At the same time, elections are scheduled to be held December 27 in the Central African Republic.  It’s not the same, but it is just as big a mess.  Let’s see if we can make sense of things.

I will admit that there are many things about the electoral process that I don’t fully understand.  How is it, for example, that in Great Britain, the ruling party can call for elections when they want (and, I guess, when they think they can win)?  I know this confusion comes from the fact that the USA has set elections – the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November – every year.  I know in the USA politicians are elected for terms of differing lengths – 6 years for senators, 2 years for representatives.  And, the elections are staggered so that even if all incumbents lost there would not be all new senators/representatives in Congress at the same time. 

I will admit to not understanding why candidates for US presidential elections feel they need to start a couple of years before the actual election (in this case November 2016).  I will admit to not understanding why primary elections can’t all be on the same day so that all citizens in all states have the choice of the full range of candidates.  I know that states like Iowa want to be first to have more of a say (I guess) in who is the candidate for each party. (They even passed a law that says something like our primary caucuses have to be one week before everyone else’s.  Is this thinking of the good of the country and democracy?)  But it means that states like Pennsylvania never get the choice of all the initial candidates (even though they moved their primary up a little) because people drop out before Pennsylvanians vote. 

I also don’t understand why everything has become so polarized in the past decade or more. (And it is daily getting worse.)  I know that the internet has made it so that people can more easily find others who think like them.  One result of this has been that these groups have pushed the thinking of the group further and further toward the extreme.  Another result, in my opinion, is increasing inflammatory statements and ways of presenting the “other’s” position.  It is much harder to find rational debate and almost impossible to find people who are truly willing to listen to each other’s positions – not with an eye to converting, but in an effort to understand and find common ground.

To recap what most of us know about US elections (to use for comparison with that happens in CAR):  The USA has two main political parties and several other smaller ones.  Each party has the chance to pick its candidates.  First, all voters express their opinion by voting in the primary elections which happens 5-10 months before the November elections.  These votes are not binding, but delegates from the states are chosen based on the candidates they support as determined by citizens’ votes.  Some states select all candidates who support the person with the most votes.  Other states apportion delegates according to the percentage of votes for candidates. 

Then, in July or August, the Republicans and Democrats have conventions to officially choose their candidate.  (I suppose the other parties do, too, but I don’t hear much about them.)  It used to be that there was more uncertainty in who would be selected with a lot of “back room” politicking, but now citizens’ votes in primaries seem to be more closely tracked and followed.  The conventions also adopt the party’s platform, approaches and policies on various issues confronting the country.  I think they also prioritize issues, but will admit to never having paid too much attention to the party platforms…

Serious campaigning begins after the conventions leaving 2-3 months to spend huge amounts of money, much of it for television ads, but there are also radio spots, rallies and events held in local communities, etc.

The USA presidential elections is complicated by the electoral college, but let’s not get into this complex system established by the founding fathers because they didn’t completely trust the votes of the masses…  Let’s just say that all citizens vote on the same day (this time November 8, 2016) to choose the next president (and other officials at the national, state, and local level) who then takes office in January 2017. 

Officially Central African presidents are elected for six-year terms and may be re-elected.  Central Africans also vote for legislators and some local officials, such as mayor.  (Some leaders, like préfets and sous-préfets, are appointed by the national government.) 

The current situation in CAR, however, is not “normal.”  The coup d’état on March 24, 2013 means that regular government functions ceased.  An interim government was named and has been working to write a new constitution, bring peace, disarm all but the military, and to schedule elections.  Interim leaders have had limited success, as I am sure you have heard.  UN and French peacekeeping forces have been sent.  Some people have disarmed, but many have not.  Scheduled elections have been pushed back several times.  Still, the overwhelming sense is that the first round of elections must be held in 2015.  People want to normalize the government and their lives.

The first step will take place this Sunday, December 13.  Central Africans will vote in a referendum on the newly written (revised?) constitution.  Editorial note:  I understand the need to get people’s support, but I wonder who has a copy of the new constitution.  Is it written in French?  Songo? Both? Local languages?  With the literacy rate lower than 50% in the country, who has it, or can read it if they do? 

The next part of the election process, scheduled for December 27, is the vote for president.  Other national and local officials will also be elected (I think).  Would-be candidates had to submit their applications by early December; 44 were received.  Then, those responsible for elections in the interim government reviewed the credentials and eliminated a bunch.  There are now 29 candidates.  Note: Leaders of the rebel groups are not eligible to run.  One of the candidates who was disqualified was former-President Bozizé who was ousted in 2013.  Unfortunately, violence erupted the next day in Bangui, most likely instigated by Bozizé and/or his supporters.

I asked a Central African I know here how anyone gets to know the candidates to be able to make a good decision.  He said that they begin to campaign after the referendum (which is two weeks before the election itself).  My concern is that people will go with name recognition – I know that happens a lot in the US.  Who are the names many would know?  Sons and a grandson of former presidents.  Still, this friend, in the same conversation, didn’t seem worried about that.  People, he said, don’t want “business as usual.” He scoffed at these sons being elected. 

I know that most people in the USA can’t imagine choosing among 29 candidates.  We are used to long campaigns and primaries winnowing down the selection.  Here it works differently.  A candidate can’t be elected without at least 50% (or something like that) of the vote.  It is highly unlikely that any one candidate will reach that level on December 27.  If no one does, there is a second round of elections.  Only the top candidates run that time.  (Note: I don’t know if the candidate has to have a certain percentage of the vote or if they pick the top 3-4 people.  Maybe I’ll find that out after Dec. 27.) 

I had heard that the second round of elections would be in January.  Someone yesterday told me it will be in February.  So, the top candidates will have 1-2 more months to campaign before the second round of voting. 

Installation of the newly elected officials will happen at some point after the elections.  I don’t know what is normal in CAR and also don’t know if some other plan will be set because this is the first election after a coup. 

I know that UN peacekeepers have been assisting in getting necessary materials into the country and to various towns.  I know they also continue to work for disarmament, but their mandate does not include going into the bush or towns to take weapons. 

I have concerns because so many “rebels” still have arms.  Many are now really just bandits extorting and robbing to make a living.  I hope they will support peaceful elections, but wonder…

I am concerned about displaced people being able to vote.  I know that the Central Africans in Garoua Boulai (those who are officially registered as refugees) have completed paperwork that will allow them to vote here.  I believe officials are also working in the refugee camps and other towns with many Central Africans here in Cameroon.  I believe the same thing is happening in other neighboring countries and hope it is happening at refugee camps in CAR and in other places where many Internally Displaced People are now living. 

My other major concerns include whether all groups will accept the newly affected officials.  People in CAR are polarized (as in the USA), mostly it’s along ethnic group lines here.  Will those with arms be willing to give up their “easy” (for them) jobs?  Are the candidates creating platforms (or whatever they are called here)?  Do they have ideas of ways to help the country develop and grow in positive ways?  Will they be able to go against the long “tradition” of (governmental and organizational) leaders coming into leadership positions so that they can enrich themselves and their families even at the expense of the country (or organization)?  How can they be held accountable?  (Editorial note:  I worry about US officials coming into office, not so much to get rich, but for power.  Power corrupts.  So, it is no wonder I worry about that here, too.)  Time will tell.

Is there hope for democracy?  What can we do to improve the electoral process?  One easy answer is to VOTE.  It is our privilege and right.  We may think that one vote doesn’t matter, but it does.  Yes, I will be applying to vote by absentee ballot for the primaries, even though those votes only get counted if the results are close.  It is still my responsibility.  You can go to your local polling place – easier for you.  Be sure you do!

Friday, December 11, 2015

OSEELC Week and Other News

Share, Learn, Serve, Have Fun! This is OSEELC Week in Garoua Boulai.  OSEELC is the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cameroons Health Services organization.  The church has three hospitals (in Garoua Boulai, N’Gaoundéré, and Ngaoubela) and numerous clinics in smaller towns.  This is the fifth year that they have all met together in one place for OSEELC Week. 

The purpose is for health care workers to get to know each other, share information and experiences; to serve the local community, and to engage in sports and other fun activities.  Yesterday morning was the opening worship service (even though people arrived the day before and there were some activities then).  I was invited to this opening as was the mayor, sous-prefet and other notables.  (OK, I listed me first, but I wasn’t the most important…  I am not participating in most other activities as I work with education and not health services.) 
Health workers from each region had clothing made from the same material.  Two of the hospital choirs prepared songs to share.  The service was held in the courtyard (or maybe we would say the parking lot if there were more cars that came to the hospital).  It was a beautiful, sunny day – most of them are now since it is the dry season.  Cloth canopies were set up to create shade for participants. 
Dr. Solofo Rakotoarivelo, Director of the hospital in GB, welcomed everyone.  Various pastors participated and the Regional Bishop, Ndjidere Ngimbe Nestor, preached.  I was happy to see that during communion, two women and two men distributed the elements.  (I am obviously haveing trouble getting pictures and text to do what I want in this blog.  Sigh. At least you can see both - and extra white space.)

 Before the service, I stood with Dr. Simon Aroga, Director of the OSEELC.  He introduced me to various people as the person who had helped them improve their yearly planning documents!  People from all areas had heard of me.  (Wow.  I had helped Dr. Solofo and Betrogo Jacob reorganize the document they already had and to make its objectives reflex what they wanted for people in the area.  This document was then used as a model for the other hospitals.  The hospital in GB had done the lion’s share of the work; still, the combined effort and cooperation has strengthened the work OSEELC is doing.)  At service ended with a parade of workers.  Here are three pictures of participating regions.
Activities this week include free clinics to test for HIV, High Blood Pressure, and Diabetes.  Other hospitals brought workers to provide dental and eye clinics, services which are only periodically available in GB. 

Areas also have teams that are competing in soccer and volleyball tournaments.  Did you notice that the N’gaoundéré team had already won a medal and were showing it off during the parade?

Participants are also eating together and finding ways to relax and have fun.

Other news:
For a week or so we have been having daily periods without electricity.  For the past three days it has started about 4 a.m.  (That means if you have an electric hot water heater and want to take a hot shower, do it in the evening and don’t wait until the morning!)  Power comes back so that things in the fridge/freezer (for those of us fortunate enough to have them) don’t spoil or defrost.  At least the electricity is back by dark.  A couple of people told me workers are replacing poles or doing some kinds of repairs that require the power to be shut off.  Fortunately, my computer has a battery and I have a solar lamp.  We adjust…

A friend gave me a palette of eggs (30 of them!).  So I have started my Christmas baking early.  I made the equivalent of 5 pumpkin pies which I have been sharing with friends.  I want to make Ginger Snaps, one of my favorite cookies, and am thinking of making eggnog for a party next week.  I think I will have enough eggs!

News about CAR and its elections in the next entry – once the power is back and I can recharge the computer…

Blessed Advent.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

This Day in History

This week has not brought much that is new in Garoua Boulai.  The world continues to generate lots of terrible news of shootings, war, bombings, and violence against people, especially women.  I decided to write instead things that make December 6 special – celebrations around the world and things that have happened on this date in history; I picked the ones with a more positive outlook! (Many thanks to the website for most of these facts and to Wikipedia for the rest.)

December 6 is the 340th day of the year.  This year it is the second Sunday in Advent.  

Celebrated on December 6, 2015

  •  Hanukkah begins (and lasts until the 14th).  Hanukkah which is the Hebrew word for dedication, honors the victory of the Jews over the Greek Syrians in 165 BC. After their victory, the Maccabees, sons of the family that led the revolt, entered the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and dedicated it to the service of their God. When the Maccabees entered the temple, they found only enough lamp oil to last one night, but the oil somehow managed to burn for the whole eight days it took to go in search for more oil. Therefore, Hanukkah is observed over eight days.
  • It is St. Nicholas Day maybe because he died on this date in 343 AD.  Wikipedia reports:
    It is celebrated as a Christian festival with particular regard to his reputation as a bringer of gifts, as well as through the attendance of Mass or worship services.[3][4] In Europe, especially in "Germany and Poland, boys would dress as bishops begging alms for the poor."[5] In Ukraine, children wait for St. Nicholas to come and to put a present under their pillows provided that the children were good during the year. Children who behaved badly may expect to find a twig or a piece of coal under their pillows. In the Netherlands, "Dutch children put out a clog filled with hay and a carrot for Saint Nicholas' horse. On Saint Nicholas' Day, gifts are tagged with personal humorous rhymes written by the sender."[6] In the United States, one custom associated with Saint Nicholas Day is children leaving their shoes in the foyer on Saint Nicholas Eve in hope that Saint Nicholas will place some coins on the soles, for them to awake to.[2]
  • The founding of Quito in Ecuador
  • Constitution Day in Spain
  • Independence Day in Finland

Here are some events throughout history
  963 - Leo VIII elected Pope
1060 - Béla I of Hungary is crowned king of Hungary
1160 - Jean Bodel’s "Jeu de St Nicholas" premieres in Arras
1196 - Northern Dutch coast flooded, "Saint-Nicolas Flood"
1534 - Quito, Ecuador, founded by Spanish
1631 - 1st predicted transit of Venus (Kepler) is observed
1732 - 1st play in American colonies acted by professional players, NYC
1768 - 1st edition of "Encyclopedia Brittanica" published (Scotland)
1790 - The U.S. Congress moves from New York City to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
1825 - Pres John Adams suggests establishment of a US observatory
1833 - HMS Beagle/Charles Darwin departs Rio de la Plata
1841 - Robert Schumann's 4th Symphony in D premieres
1845 - Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity is founded at Yale College.
1849 - Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery in Maryland for the 2nd and final time

Abolitionist Harriet Tubman
1865 - 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution is ratified, abolishing slavery
1866 - Chicago water supply tunnel 3,227 m into Lake Michigan completed
1870 - Joseph H Rainey, 1st black in House of Reps (SC)
1876 - 1st crematorium in US begins operation, Washington, PA
1877 - First recording made of the human voce - Thomas Edison reciting "Mary had a little lamb"
Inventor Thomas Edison
1897 - London becomes the world's first city to host licensed taxicabs.

1904 - Theodore Roosevelt confirms Monroe-doctrine (Roosevelt Corollary)
26th US President Theodore Roosevelt
1921 - Anglo-Irish Treaty signed; Ireland receives dominion status; partition creates Northern Ireland
1922 - 1st electric power line commercial carrier in US, Utica, NY
1923 - 1st US Presidential address broadcast on radio by President Calvin Coolidge
1929 - Turkey introduces female suffrage
30th US President Calvin Coolidge
1933 - Ban on James Joyce' "Ulysses" in US lifted
1947 - The Everglades National Park in Florida is dedicated.

1963 - Beatles begin a tradition of releasing a Christmas record for fans
1964 - "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" 1st airs on TV
1966 - Polio vaccination becomes obligatory in Belgium
1969 - 300,000 attend Altamont California, rock concert feature Rolling Stones
1980 - NASA launches Intelsat V satellite, no. 502
1981 - Rob de Castella of Australia sets Marathon record at 2:08:18
1991 - "Les Miserables" opens at Circustheater, Scheveningen
1991 - "Star Trek VI-Undiscovered Country" premieres
2012 - A 243 million year old Nyasasaurus fossil is discovered in Tanzania

I hope you are doing something special today so it will be included in future lists of this kind!  May it promote peace, good will to all people.