The last post focused on workshop issues; this one will have more other life issues. This was the longest workshop I’ve done in Cameroon, and my first time flying within the country. For instance, we stayed at a Benedictine monastery, so we were able to buy fresh milk, from the above and a small number of other cows on the compound.
For those looking for some perspective on the capitol city of Cameroon (where we live), here it is from the air. You can see the taller buildings and larger roads going to a center area in the top third of the above photo.
I also got a photo of our neighborhood, complete with our house, the CABTAL building, the soccer field where we get to exercise (even in isolation), and even on end of the building of our local church!
Back to the monastery, apparently this order likes to keep busy, and to make things to sell to the community. This is where they make essential oils (from lots of things, with lots of cryptic names —cinnamon was the only one I recognized):
They also have a place behind the building where we stayed, where they microbrew a beer made from locally available ingredients. But as with many places, innovation, industry, and tradition go hand in hand. They also have a talking drum prominently displayed at the monastery entrance:
I didn’t ever hear anyone play it (other than me, in the above video clip), but these drums (found across Africa) are dear to my heart. They probably make no sense to most English speakers, but when you speak a tonal language, these drums are putting out the information that you normally use to make words. So the fact that these drums are used to communicate language, which is then understood at a great distance, is a testimony to the importance of tone in these languages. Imagine you had a drum you could hit that made the ‘p’ sound, and another that could make a ‘b’ or ‘k’ sound, and you could just pound out letters (on a drum carved from a tree, no less!), and so beat out the sounds of a word. Anyway, I think it is cool that something so uniquely African exists, that recognizes the unique value of tone in African languages.
[Before I journal out what a typical day of Quarantine in Cameroon is like, I want to say there are some big differences between Quarantine here v. in the US with unlimited high-speed internet streaming services, curbside pickups, Amazon deliveries and Door Dash from your favorite restaurant. In Cameroon, power and internet are a costly privilege. I am Quarantined on our office compound where there is a backup power generator, so if it all cuts out – it is back on within about 60 seconds. Still, I have traded streaming music/movies for using my list of downloads while power lasts, and singing or listening to a flock of tropical birds outside when it doesn’t. I’ve traded curbside pickups and Amazon deliveries for friends and neighbors sharing/swapping. And I’ve traded restaurant meals for my own kitchen creativity (and some simple meals)… Add the cool, wet season of tropical ‘winter’ and a whole lot of bugs – and it’s the same! Just about…]
6:30am – I wake up to birds praising their Creator and the slam of a screen door nearby. All windows are open louvers with screens, so noise travels! Slowly getting up, I put my clean coffee mug outside on the front porch chair and set up my own seat for morning coffee.
7:00am – Kent arrives before his work day to pour me coffee with whipped cream! He backs away, so I can reach out to pull the coffee inside, and then sits down on the other side of the porch. Once I am back behind the screen door, he takes off his mask and we share long-distance coffee. We talk about the kids getting out the door at 6:45, or what’s going on in the house or at the office. We often share thoughts about current events. Today it’s about Critical Race Theory and how the Church should respond. Basically, we pretend to solve all the world’s problems in our 45 minutes… 🙂
8:00am – Kent rushes back to set up an online portal to a linguistics conference in the Netherlands he and another colleague are attending virtually all day. I pray for them, finish Bible reading and throw some breakfast together. Goals of the day are blogging, Email, finishing my 1000-piece puzzle. It’s hard not to count the hours left – three more full days! Joel and Anna haven’t seen me except on phone calls for 5 weeks. Feels like forever.
1:00pm – My puzzle is almost done and I need to stop or I won’t have anything to do for the next few days. I watch one more episode of a TV series I downloaded, but it’s the second to last one I have. Unless I want to rewatch the whole season again, I’ll need to find something else to do. I decide to save it at least another day. I could reread a book, but decide to read online instead.
1:30pm – Kent texts me from his conference that Anna is in tears about online school because her computer is down (that she built). I call her. She doesn’t pick up. Teenagers and their headphones with loud music! I call her brother and finally get her on the phone. She needs to be creative and not put more on Dad today. She agrees to try working on her brother’s old dinosaur laptop that sounds like a jet engine.
3:00pm – My friend Lori knocks outside. My first week of Quarantine, I was the only one, but now there are 4 households of us and we are allowed to walk outside on the path between 3-6pm at a distance. I’m late for walk-time! I change into exercise clothes and begin putting on my shoes when Anna calls in tears. She just saw an Email saying that her Zoom violin lesson across the globe started a few minutes ago. She’s panicking and not sure what to do. I postpone the walk by an hour, calm her down, and log in to listen to her lesson with her from here.
4:15pm – Violin Lesson salvaged in spite of high winds and rain ( = spotty internet/power). Hopefully I can still get in a walk! I find my fellow-Quarantiner and we start around the 1/4mi path. After one lap, it starts sprinkling and the hills in the distance disappear behind a looming wall of water. We make it a fast 2 laps and retreat to warm up inside. It is ‘winter’ with weather in the 65-80 range and it often rains during our ‘outside time’. It makes taking out trash and drying laundry a bit complicated. Thankfully, no laundry or trash runs for me today! I have a thick blanket on the hard tile for a yoga mat and can stretch out.
6:00pm – I decide to cook a real dinner, not just eat fruit & cheese. I have chicken drumsticks, a moldy onion, a questionable zucchini and some drying out carrots. I clean up the onion and sautee it with peeled carrots. I add water and chicken to simmer, and am pleasantly surprised by the zucchini – not one worm inside! It gets sliced up and steamed on top of it all. I found a steak seasoning mix that I spice it with and serve topped with butter and sea salt. Food for a king! I notice a little river of ants coming in a crack in the wall, but can’t figure where they are feasting… ominous.
9:00pm – After eating my dinner, chatting with family and reading a bit more (only a few more puzzle pieces!), it’s time to get ready for bed. The empty apartment gets dark quickly after 7:00 and then the bugs feel free to take over. I catch a mosquito in mid-air and feel victorious. Last weekend a big rainstorm brought in several huge cockroaches and I had to convince both myself and them that I was in charge. But I drew the line at the enormous spider in the bathroom! I just couldn’t get close enough to kill him with a shoe. He disappeared somewhere near the back of the door and my towel. I named him Henry. We are peacefully coexisting. I pretend he’s not there, and he pretends that I am not there. I use a different towel. And I bring my broom in with me – just in case.
10:00pm – I’ll wash my 3 dishes tomorrow. And handwash a few last things to wear. Lights out. I’ve had lots of time to chat with Jesus. To puzzle. To sleep. To fight bugs. The crickets are chirping. All that goes through my head is spider nightmares, so I sing a praise song half asleep. Think on only what is good. Most of all I am thankful that I am not sick and not bringing COVID back home next week!
I heard this morning from a friend in our Cameroonian church that there was news that things would start to open up soon, so they were starting to make plans on how to do that at church. This surprised me, and since I haven’t looked at the stats for awhile, I did so today, and was surprised by what I found.
First of all, there are a few things I look for. As we talk about flattening the curve, one thing I look for is the shape of the curve, and where we stand in that shape. Is the increase linear, or exponential? Is the increase decreasing, even if the over all numbers are still rising? The other main thing I look at is how longstanding the trend is. There were many days where I wasn’t sure what to make of the numbers for Cameroon. Were we seeing a new trend, that was only a few days old, or a glitch in the numbers/reporting? There were several times where there were few/no numbers reported, then a few days later, the stats caught up. So it is helpful to see data work out over a week or two, to be able to extrapolate past dramatic shifts of a day or two, that represent reporting irregularities more then pandemic progress.
This stat is a nice one, because it allows a quick overview of the situation, and a quick comparison of how many total people have been sick, and how many of those have already recovered (as well as how many have died). For instance, this set of numbers shows a large proportion of those who have or have had COVID-19 have recovered (15k/18k = ~83%), and a very small proportion have died (395/18k = ~0.21%). So this is a good thing for Cameroon. But I’m sure not everyone reading this is into numbers.…
So this one shows the total cases in Cameroon:
As you can see, the curve is clearly flattening. There is the section where the curve was exponential (up to maybe June 1), then it straightened to a line (up to maybe July 14), and now it is leveling off. But that’s not all:
So we see the same thing here, that the number of total deaths is also leveling off, and may not go much past 400 total deaths. Yay! We see a similar thing for new cases:
As well as for daily deaths:
The above graphs can be summarized in the number of active cases over time:
That is, the number of cases at one time was stable at about 1,000 cases for some time (through April), then went up to as high as 4k cases (May-June). It is now back down to about 2k cases (and falling), meaning people are now recovering at least as fast as people are getting sick.
Comparison with other places
In case the numbers and graphs don’t mean much to you, I also found the same data for other places, for comparison. This is the total looks like compared to in the US, with a red and blue state (each where we know and love people) for comparison:
That is, whereas in Cameroon there are some 83% of cases recovered, in the US generally, there are almost half of the cases (that have ever been, 2,664k+165k)/5,201k =~54%) still active. Sick people still producing virus, potentially still infecting other people. The ratio of recovereds in Texas is slightly better than average (345k+8k/500k = ~70%), and in Oregon much worse (4k+0.36k/21k =~20%). Recall that the purpose of these ratios is just to understand where on the curve we are. In Cameroon, we are on the back side of the curve, with fewer and fewer cases. In the US, we are still at the middle or nearer the front of the curve.
The daily new cases in the US looks like it is nearing the back side of the curve:
And maybe so for Texas
And for Oregon (though less clearly so):
For total cases, the US seems more clearly not flattening:
and the same is seen in Oregon and Texas (maybe flattening a little here):
Anyway, if you want more stats than these, or if you want to see how they are when you’re reading this (since things change), or how they are in your state, county, or country, you can find all that at https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ (including data showing the resurgence in France, which last I had seen was on the back side of the curve!).
The bottom line is that, compared to other places, Cameroon is a pretty safe place to be these days, with regard to COVID-19.
We have now been back in Africa almost eight months, and in addition to organizing the physical necessities of our house (including receiving our sea freight shipment!), we have had a lot of personal adjustment to do.
Those who have lived cross-culturally are often surprised by what can be called reverse culture shock; it has been described relevant to a number of different domains:
The gist is that you expect culture shock when you go somewhere with a different culture, but you don’t expect culture shock when you come back. The fact that you have been living in another culture changes you, so you experience culture shock coming back to your passport country, but because you don’t expect it, it can be hard to deal with —you can have a hard time figuring out why it doesn’t feel like “home.”
Anyway, that all is stuff we’ve dealt with a number of times (like trying to buy peanut butter and jelly in Fred Meyer in 2000), and we’ve worked through it and come to expect it. But I think the best way to describe our current situation is that we’ve found another layer, which I’m calling “reverse reverse culture shock”. That is, when we returned from DR Congo in 2013, and blitzed through Oregon and California to move to Texas for my doctoral program, we knew we wouldn’t feel at home. As we got to know Texas, we got to know a lot of things, liking some more than others. :-) But however we felt, we had constant reminders that we weren’t from there, so we always had a framework to understand that nagging feeling of not belonging. Then last year, we were finally going back to Africa!
Granted, we are not so naive as to think that all of Africa is the same. There is some 2,140 languages in Africa; this is a main reason we are here, after all! Each one of those languages holds at least some cultural distinctives, however much similarity there might be between any two languages or cultures. Our first experience on African soil as Wycliffe missionaries was in Cameroon, where we currently live. But since then, our experience has been on the other side of the continent, in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda) and DR Congo. DR Congo was an interesting counterpoint to the other countries we worked in because it has French as a national language. It also has laws and customs more common in ex-French colonies (as opposed to laws and customs in ex-British colonies, such as Kenya).
But whether the DR Congo distinguishes itself as an ex-Belgian colony, or for whatever other reason, it stands to reason that DR Congo and Cameroon are simply not the same country, so we shouldn’t expect them to be.
But there are so many things that you can generalize between them, like the love of soccer (OK, maybe that’s everyone but the USA :-)), beignets, and acronyms.
I’ve been thinking about this last one quite a bit in the last couple weeks, because of how differently Congolese and Cameroonians make acronyms. For instance, in DR Congo, each protestant church denomination is known by an acronym and a number. One group we worked with was called CECCA/16 (planted by WEC). The full name of the church is Communauté Evangélique du Christ au Cœur de l’Afrique (“evangelical community/church of Christ in the heart of Africa”), and it’s registration number with the DRC government is 16, hence the full common name with acronym/number. This is notably not the same group as CECA/20 (was planted by AIM), with full name Communauté Evangélique au Centre de l’Afrique (“evangelical community/church in the heart of Africa”). In each case, the longer/lexical words get one letter each in the acronym, and the smaller/grammatical words do not. The fact that CECA and CECCA are pronounced the same is ameliorated by the use of the government registration numbers, to keep their common names distinct.
But in Cameroon, there is often a different system in place. I don’t know that I’ve fully understood it, so I’ll just present some data. :-) The government ministry I visited last week is MINEDUB, MINistère de l’EDUcation du Base (“Ministry/department of Basic/primary Education”). Here we have three letters from the first lexical word, three from the second, and one from the third (apparently avoiding MEB, MINEDUBAS, and MINEBAS). On the other hand, the Department of Secondary Education is MINESEC, MINistère des Enseignements SECondaires (“ministry/department of secondary teaching/education”), and the Department of Higher Education is MINESUP, MINistère de l’Enseignement SUPerieur (“ministry/department of higher education/teaching”). In these last two cases, we get three letters from the first and last lexical words, and one letter from the second word.
Lest anyone think I’m picking on government bodies (which I’m not, it was just three related bodies whose acronyms presented themselves), the linguistic conference that I attended last March is NASCAL, the NAtional Symposium on CAmeroonian Languages, with two letters from the first and third lexical word, and one from each of the other two.
And the denomination of our local church here is MEEC, Mission de l’Eglise Évangélique du Cameroun (“mission of the evangelical church of Cameroon”), which, while having an acronym I might expect, appears to be unrelated to the EEC, l’Eglise Évangélique du Cameroun (“the evangelical church of Cameroon”). I never thought I would miss those helpful numbers to disambiguate otherwise similar sounding names.
Anyway, one of the major elements of cultural adjustment, we have found, is building triviality. There are lots of things we just don’t think about in our daily life, and that goes away when you’re having to think through every little thing as you interact with people who think differently in another culture. Funny how the way people build acronyms can differ, and cause you to have to think through something you never had to spend energy on before. I’ll try to do a few more posts on other ways I’ve found reverse reverse culture shock, readjusting to our life and work in Africa.
Here are a few other fun acronyms we’ve found around here:
ASOY — American School Of Yaoundé (presumably the fun of an acronym pronounced “a soy” trumped the rule against including grammatical words in an acronym. Or perhaps ASY had other problems.…)
RFIS — Rain Forest International School (despite the fact that RainForest is one word here, here, here, and here.)
CAMBO — CAMeroon Branch Orientation
STUCO — STUdent COuncil (at RFIS)
SCREAM — School Can Really Expand A Mind (RFIS reading program?!?)
FCFA – Franc Communauté Financière Africaine (the money everyone uses here and in a couple other countries, although no one seems to know what the letters stand for)
We’ve neglected blogging this first month of our arrival in Cameroon. There was so much to be done! Our first two weeks, Kent was frequently in planning meetings before his supervisor left for a year of furlough. Then for about 2 weeks our attention turned to housing. We were initially in a company-owned apartment with rented furniture, dishes, etc. The challenge here was that we have some big eaters in our family and the tiny oven could bake about 6 muffins at a time. The pots they gave us could fit about 2 servings. One meal, I boiled up 4 different things in rotation with the same little pot! The advantages to this apartment were that the kids have friends very nearby and access 24/7 to a playground and soccer field.
We had still preferred to live with a bit more space out in the neighborhood nearby, closer to Cameroonian neighbors. Kent went on several long hikes up and down the hills looking at available homes and apartments with a realtor he met at a local church. The end result was that anything big enough and ready enough for us to live in would be in a high-rise apartment building. We were disappointed because we had really hoped for a garden and yard of our own. In our third week, we learned that this company-owned apartment could be ours long-term. We also had the first few coconuts drop on us, and found that the backyard is already fitted with a raised bed for vegetables. During a recent water shortage, we also discovered that this apartment has some of the best water in the area! It wasn’t exactly what we had dreamed of, but it seems God has chosen this apartment for us – at least at this time.
So we began to discuss what it would take to make this current apartment our home, and began to work toward that. Most of our belongings are still on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and we hope to be ready to receive them in October. We taxied 30 minutes downtown to locate the appliance-row of Indian-owned shops piled high with stoves, fridges and washing machines from Turkey, Italy, China, etc. and began to bargain. After 5 hours of bargaining, the prices were not coming down and we decided to leave. It took another day or two of bargaining before we had prices we could stomach (so expensive!) and Kent brought home a nice big stove we can actually use and a new LG washing machine! We have never owned a washing machine in Africa. I think in Kenya we borrowed one for a while.
Bit by bit we had needed items for cooking and cleaning. Bit by bit we could establish routines our kids are familiar with (like homemade pizzas and movies Friday night and coconut chocolate chip muffins Sunday mornings). A friend heard we had no tea pot and found one she didn’t need that we could use. A colleague heard we were looking for a cast iron pan and she happened to have one. Our HR Director spotted a stainless steel stock pot in the storage unit and grabbed it for us. Kent was given a furnished office and even has an official sign on the door! Pieces.
We have yet to conquer the ordering of furniture. We decided our bed would have to be first because it is super small. I am 5’8″ and my feet stick over the end. You can imagine Kent’s legs sticking off the end! Last week I mustered up the strength and went with a Cameroonian colleague to bargain for the making of a bed. There were about 5 kinds of wood they mentioned that are unfamiliar to me. After about 3 hours we had finally agreed on the type of wood and the simple design and the price. They were shocked over and over that I wanted it to sit higher off the floor. We’ll see in 2 weeks what we end up with. I asked to do the finish on it myself at home because often dust and dirt gets in the layers of finish at the workshop.
I have a pretty long list of all the furniture we need made, so we can give the rented items back to our office, and I was overwhelmed at it all yesterday. Kent and I had both had spiritual attack dreams. Mine was being chased and bitten over and over by a huge, long albino serpent trying to save my daughter. In my morning grogginess, I looked around the bedroom and envisioned how many pieces of furniture I had yet to bargain for, haul home, upholster and finish myself – just for one room! In Congo, it had taken me over a year to get it all done. And I half-prayed in hopelessness, “Lord, will we never be established here?”
I heard a message pop up on my phone.
I picked it up.
The verse-of-the-day on YouVersion popped up before I even put in my password:
“But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3
I almost didn’t believe my eyes. God had heard my despair, and He had answered immediately. He will establish us. It’s not on me alone. He sees all the language and culture changes we are dealing with, and He will establish us. When my energy is low after 10 days of mysterious fever. He will establish us. When our colleague’s little baby is struggling to breathe in the hospital and we need to help. He will establish us. When the ants are taking over the kitchen. When the drizzle deeps coming and the laundry won’t dry. He will establish us.
He reminds me why we are here. Kent has work that he loves. People groups get Bibles they can actually read and use. Our kids get a quality education. All of those things are happening. He will establish us and protect us. In retrospect, I can see Him working in the teapot that just shows up, the stock pot, the cast iron. He has been establishing us all this time. How quickly I doubt!
We made it to Cameroon tonight, though a bit late and half a bag short. ;-)Thanks to all who have been with us in this transition; we made it directy into the house we will be staying in the next couple months, at least.
One of the main goals of our March trip to Cameroon was attending the second National Symposium on Cameroonian Languages (NASCAL2), which was held some six hours by road north of Yaoundé. So before detailing the conference itself, I’ll chronicle the trip up and back. Mostly because I saw more of the country than we did in Yaoundé, but also because I had little to do but converse and take pictures. :-)
It took pretty much forever to get out of the city:
But once we did, the roadside view was mostly beautiful:
Though it was also much a work in progress:
There were lots of shops in larger and smaller villages along the way:
And various dead vehicles, as elsewhere in Africa:
As well as construction materials and crews:
And cell towers:
We saw gasoline brands we only see in Africa:
We crossed a major river:
And we eventually stopped for lunch:
We spent a lot of time behind trucks:
But we also got to see countryside houses of the more powerful:
and lots of kinds of trees:
Along the way, we also saw lots of small shops:
And people going about their lives:
Eventually, we stopped for gas:
As far as I could tell, this truck was filling up, not filling the station tank:
The gas station was across the street from Air Force One:
Some colleagues were trying to send someone money, so we spent some time at the post office:
Unfortunately, things didn’t go smoothly (between internet, phone calls, who was in the office, and who had money, etc), so we spent about an hour looking at the post office, and the road it was on:
But we ultimately got back on the road, and filled up at a station with croissants:
So the summary I take from all this is that there are some things that are just like Kenya and DRCongo (e.g., much of the road, shops, and scenery), and there are somethings that are very much different (croissants, pyramids on houses, evergreen trees). So this trip was helpful in the process of adjusting to Cameroon: setting our expectations for a better and more productive time working there.
Here is a picture of Kim walking from the center finance office to the building where we stayed on the trip. The cement may look older, but SIL is celebrating its 50th anniversary of working in Cameroon, so that’s understandable. Between the buildings, there are of course lots of living things, moving and planted. Some of the moving things we saw in the first day:
We found this not small beetle hanging out outside of an office we were visiting. This guys was just across the way from our apartment:
and he stuck around for a close-up:
Joel certainly got lots of lizard pics, but we’ll save those for another post.
This view looks back toward the finance office, with many of the linguistics offices in the building below. With lots of bushes and trees, of course. Looking straight down the hill is the kitchen and dining hall:
This is the center library:
Here is Joel showing us a rainwater reclamation system (and two lizards):
And a Jacaranda tree, which graced us with purple snow on our path:
And James graciously posed next to some ripening mangoes:
It was encouraging to stay in a place with so much logistical support already in place, but also to see the beauty of God’s creation at our very doorstep!
This was our first view of Yaoundé, the capital city of Cameroon. Though short a few letters, the sign reads “Yaoundé Nsimalen International Aéroport”. Becuase it was dark, we got our first ride into the city at night —though that didn’t mean no traffic. :-)
We have been very sleepy and short on internet, but we wanted to share a bit of African color. I love that Mangoes just fall from the sky here (though they are not quite in season right now), so mango trees this huge give me joy (compare with baby swing in foreground and Kimberly by the trunk).
James and Joel are at their second youth event right now (a boys’ sleepover). We’re reaquianting ourselves with getting around and buying stuff, working ourselves into the right times to be awake, and fighting Kim’s cold.
I will be traveling on Monday. Please pray for health, safe travels and flexibility for me, and for health, safety and good acclimation for Kim and the children while I am up country. For all of us, please pray that we would be wise and have favor in each of our interactions, both with other expatriates and with Cameroonians.