Sunday, March 30, 2014

3/30 - Gabon is Booming! + Yaounde & Building a Screen Door

We just got word of the first baptisms in Gabon!  (The country was dedicated and opened in January.)  I count 22 people in white, plus the missionaries in the photo they sent.  They said that it took the whole meeting to confirm them!
First Baptisms in Gabon

The Douala branch president, Marius Nkong, gave a good talk at the end of Sacrament meeting and then left because he felt ill.  On the way down the stairs he fell.  He was very weak and Frere Mbengue, his first counselor, asked me to drive him to the hospital.  First we stopped at a pharmacy to get some medicine and a house to pick up his kids, and then a gas station to get for food for him, after which his wife decided to just take him home.  She didn’t know if he had eaten anything but planned to feed him and let him rest.  He couldn’t talk much but said that he couldn’t remember anything after giving his talk.  I wish we had modern medical care here.  I called him on Tuesday and he said that he is resting and doing better.
The Douala Meetinghouse

Elder Okon, recently arrived from Nigeria, was feeling ill on Saturday and hadn’t been able to eat or drink.  He seemed to have a fever and other symptoms of malaria.  We took him to the Daniel Muna Clinic, which was highly recommended by previous couples.  It cost about $12 to see a doctor but about $90 for the recommended tests.  Then the prescription medication was about $13.  When the test results came back on Monday the doctor said that he didn’t have anything.  It was probably just unfamiliar food.
Jungles of Cameroon Seen from the Bus
Monday we took the bus to Yaounde for our monthly two-day visit and had a meeting with all 10 of the Elders there.  On Tuesday we had them all over again for ice cream, since they don’t have a senior couple to pamper them.  We paid some bills and dealt with financial issues and found that we were missing about $510.  I spent every spare minute poring over the records trying to figure out why the books wouldn’t balance.  Finally, on Wednesday morning I noticed a small difference in record-keeping and an approved double payment, and everything balanced.  What a relief!  It was starting to look like auditors would be coming.  Since nearly everything is paid in cash, record-keeping can be problematic. 
Yaounde Elders
While in Yaounde we went on a 2km hike through the Parcours Vita-Yaounde.  We got a good workout and saw banana & mango trees & other flora.  We enjoyed the cooler weather of Yaounde, not needing air conditioning.  And we went out to eat with Jeff Gibbs, an American businessman.
Sister Coleman Running Up the Stairs

A Friendly Millipede

Pond in the Parcours Vita

Mangos Growing in the Parcours Vita
Jeff Gibbs
Cafe de Yaounde, Delicious Fish with No Bones!
Thursday’s piano lesson was much smaller, with only 9 students so they each got more keyboard time.

Friday I went with Romeo to buy parts and build a sliding screen door for the Douala Elders’ balcony door.  Their apartment gets so hot that they always keep the door open and they get mosquitos.  Romeo is a genius at working with wood, taking few measurements, writing nothing down, cutting everything precisely with a hand saw, and building a precision sliding door and frame.  I could never do that.
Tiny Hardware Store Where We Bought Screen & Nails

Marche Congo Where We Bought Lumber
We bought the wood in a marketplace (Marche Congo) on a dirt road with piles of garbage in the road and hundreds of stalls.  Then we took it to a stall with a planer and table saw to get it smoothed and cut.  In this woodworking booth was a worker with a hard hat and flip-flops.  I saw a pile of wood fall on his foot and thought that it looked quite painful.  He just slipped out of his flip-flop and continued working with one bare foot.  I would have liked a photo of him hard at work with his hand saw while wearing a hard hat and one flip-flop but didn’t want to whip out my camera before we settled our bill.
Three Men with Buckets on their Heads

Yaounde Street: Every Umbrella is a Business, Every Yellow Car a Cab

Man with a Bucket of Buckets on Head

Saturday, March 22, 2014

3/22 - New Chapel???

March 16-22, 2014

President Cook, our mission president, visited for two days so we were able to ask all of our questions, such as how to deal with emergencies in the branches, why do meeting blocks here last 3.5 hours, and whether we can install air conditioning in the Elders apartment.  He didn’t know why the meetings last 3.5 hours and counseled against it.  He had a lot of meetings and interviews.  I drove him around and went to most of his meetings.  I am in awe of the answers he gives to some of the unusual problems he faces.

The building that we meet in in Douala is being put up for sale (for over $3M) so President Cook is going to start the approval process to start building a chapel!  The Church owns property so we visited it and found it suitable.  If approved, it will be the first chapel in Douala and a great blessing after all of the problems we’ve had lately with our rented building.
Church Property

Our Truck Parked in Front of Church Property
Speaking of which, we hosted two more baptisms at our apartment today, because our meetinghouse still has no water.  Baptisms are always exciting.
Melissa Ready for Baptism
We taught some investigators with the young Elders and President Cook.  People are so open here about faith in Christ that they can readily feel the Spirit.  The biggest problem seems to be that in the past 20 years villages have begun accepting couples living together and raising families out of wedlock.  So when they want to get baptized they have to come up with the bride-price, and most cannot easily afford it.  It might be something like 10 cows.

Their Home with Typical Cinder Block & Tin Roof Construction
President Cook is a podiatrist, so while he was here he treated Elder Leavitt's ingrown toenail.
Toenail Surgery with Audience
Here are some more random thoughts, observations and experiences:

This country has no carpeting, except for the odd throw-rug.  That’s probably good, since they don’t have vacuum cleaners, either.  Ceramic tile flooring is very popular, oddly enough, since it is so expensive in America.

Church is always an interesting experience.  We have so many friends but also too many people to remember.  And with lots of investigators coming each week, we can’t keep track of who is new and who is old.  A white Belgian investigator came last Sunday so I sat by him and tried to be a friend.  He was so argumentative and critical of the meetings that I was surprised afterward when he said that he really liked the feeling there and he wanted to know more.

With no addresses or street names people find their way around by describing landmarks, usually signs on buildings.  Our address is “next to Gicam”, and then we have to go outside and find the visitor when they arrive.  Since everyone takes taxis everywhere and the taxi drivers know the landmarks, the system works.  I think it is funny to hear people call a taxi.  They make a short kissing sound.

I think that there are two things that I will never get used to here because the American culture is too firmly ingrained in my psyche.
1.        Well-bred, upstanding citizens casually throw trash on the ground without a second thought.  Apparently the concept of not littering was never taught here.
2.       Missionary companions can and do hold hands without it being gay.  There are no openly gay people here, due to strict laws against it.  So it is normal to show brotherly affection with hand-holding, hugging, and other touching that would cause assumptions to be made in America.

One of the mature leaders in one of the branches has recently realized that marriage is important, so he has started looking around for a wife.  Having decided also that the single sisters should try to find husbands, and that their children made them less marriageable, he started urging single sisters to give custody of their children to the fathers.  (Quod sequitur, right?)  Of course, this didn’t sit well with the sisters.  Just one of the challenges of a young branch.

A bunch of letters arrived in our P.O. Box on March 17th.  Postmarks were from Dec, Jan, Feb, and March, but mostly February.  Things move at a different pace here.

I finally found a store with a selection of hardware, so I could buy a bolt to fix my license plate and a latch for the laundry room door.  Stores here are so unlike American stores that it is hard to find stuff.  Yesterday we just walked down the street sticking our heads in every store that looked promising to see what they sold.  We found a few things that we needed but not everything.

Much commerce takes place on or near sidewalks.  About a block from our home is an open shack type of structure that serves as a diner.  Extension cords provide power for 2 competing copy machines on stands in the dirt outside the diner, under umbrellas.  We go there to get copies.  They hand-feed the paper so copying is slow, and the machines are held together by lots of tape but the copies are good.  Price is about 5 cents.
Our Nearest Copy Center
Piano lesson #2 in Bonaberi drew 19 people again even though we still only have one keyboard.  Four of the original students didn’t show up but four new ones came.  Sister Coleman is teaching air-piano while Elder Coleman gives each student a few minutes of instruction on the keyboard.

Elder Okon, newly arrived from Nigeria, has had some flu-like symptoms lately (a possible sign of malaria) so we took him to the clinic today for tests.  We're still awaiting the results.  The clinic was highly recommended by previous missionary couples and locals say it is expensive so we had high expectations.  A visit costs about $12 but the lab tests came to about $90.  They also have a VIP option where the visit costs about $120 and you don't have to wait for your turn but get treated in a special office.  We chose to wait the 2 hours like everyone else.  I got to talking with the receptionist and invited him to church.

A tall crane fell over near our home causing major traffic problems.  We don't know if anyone was hurt, but it is impressive to see a crane lying on its side across the road.

The gutters here are deep ditches covered by concrete slabs called "dallettes".  Often some of the dallettes are missing, creating a serious hazard for careless drivers or pedestrians.
Very Common Hazard Everywhere

Sister Coleman's strap broke on her high-quality purse so we searched for a shop that could repair it.  We ended up in a shoe-repair shop.  We asked but they wouldn't give us a price so we handed over the purse and hoped for the best.  While we were waiting we chatted with the three women working there, gave them brochures and invited them to church.  One said she would come.  She also asked for advice on a confidential problem and took me aside.  She is living with a guy who is doing drugs and wondering if she should leave him.  I talked about the law of chastity.  That was what she wanted to hear.  Then the purse was ready and the worker smiled and said no charge.  We offered a tip but he wouldn't take anything.  That small act of generosity made our day.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

3/15 - Mission Splitting, Traffic Jams, Service Project, Party

Our mission is being split!  We will be in the new mission to be created in July.  The work is hastening.

Our investigator, Noah, is making great progress.  He often brings us gifts.  I had mentioned that I never found yams here so he brought us about 20 lbs of yams.  He said they didn’t have the yellow kind yet.  These white ones are more like what I call sweet potatoes, but with better flavor.
Huge Yams with Apple to show size

We shipped a document by bus courier to Younde since the mail is unreliable.  In the parking lot we found 3 men sitting on our truck bumper.  They all wanted church brochures, which we happily shared.  What a country!

Sister Coleman taught her first piano lesson in Africa to two girls at our home.  This was practice for the big group.  One of the girls learned Sister Coleman’s first name and said it was her first name, too.  She said that coincidence is called mbombo.  But she rarely uses “Ruth”, instead going by her middle name of “Purita”.
Piano Lesson in our home

The girls asked how much it cost to mail a package.  They were shocked when I showed them a small package we had just received and the postage on it, which was enough to feed a family here for a month.

Sister Coleman taught all comers at the Bonaberi meetinghouse and 19 people showed up.  Elder Coleman had to help out with individual instruction while Sister Coleman taught the group since we only had one keyboard.

One morning a young boy of about 13 knocked on our door.  It was a branch member, Samuel, paying us a surprise visit during a school break.  That was fun.

The Tour de Cameroon bike race came through town.  I just happened to be walking to a local store and saw the crowds and police.  One bike came by while I was there but I didn’t have my camera ready.  After 10 minutes the next one hadn’t come and I didn’t have time to wait.

Brother Bongongui died Wed morning.  He was the first Church member in Douala and served as the first branch president for many years.

We invited the Douala Branch president, Marius Nkong and his family to dinner.  They are a terrific family and have sacrificed much to help the Douala Branch grow.
Sonya & Marius Nkong with Moroni, Yael, & sister Alma

We got stopped by some cops again wearing what looked like highway workers outfits.  They said I need a Cameroon drivers license and should be fined $50 but they would let us go since we are missionaries.  Then the cop asked for a tip, so I gave him the $2 that I kept handy for such a thing.

We got stuck in a traffic jam for 90 minutes in the middle of the day Thursday because workers were putting some new speed bumps on the main highway.  Then Saturday we were stuck in the same stretch for 3.5 hours because a truck hit a train causing a 4-car & 2 motorcycle accident up on the bridge.  The bridge to Bonaberi is rather strange in that there is a train track embedded in the asphalt right down the middle of the road.  Traffic there is always bad so vehicles nearly always drive on the tracks and trains are rare.  But when a train does come it can be catastrophic.
3.5 hour traffic jam; note RR tracks in road

During the traffic jam we saw a branch member in one of the other cars.  I got out and walked over and found a car full of RS Sisters bringing food to the party.  One of them (Purita) joined us in our truck and we had a good time chatting.

Saturday was a big Relief Society birthday party.  It started at 6am cleaning the home of the newly widowed Sister Bongongui.
Cleaning Widow's Home

After that, with 12 people in our pickup truck we drove across town to pick up some soap and other gift supplies and then on to the Bonaberi General Hospital.
Members Piling into our Truck
At the hospital we visited the sick and give them gift bags and pamphlets.  One new mother asked for a blessing, so Elder Coleman and Elder Okon performed that ordinance.  Conditions in the hospitals here are rather abysmal but they did have an incubator for her preemie.
Maternity Wing of General Hospital
Preparing Gift Bags outside Hospital

Entrance to Intensive Care

Hall of Hospital

A Vacant Hospital Room Like Those in Use

Going from Room to Room; Some Have Outside Doors

Eventually, we headed back for some party supplies.  We were late for the party due to the train crash, but we saw the RS trivia game and the singing and dance performances.  Sister Coleman put on her new “kaba” (dress) and “foulard” (head tie) and modeled them for the group.  Every sister had a turn to be cheered on the runway even though nearly all wore identical clothing, made by one of the sisters.  The dinner had a wide selection of food, including deep-fried fish (entire fish), chicken feet, ndole, manioc in strips and chunks, deviled eggs with tomatoes, rice, beef parts, and fried plantains.  We tried it all and it was quite tasty.  Everyone enjoyed the party.
R.S. Dance Number

Sister Coleman Supermodel

Party Meal

Deviled Eggs

Tasty Fried Fish (just don't make eye-contact with it)

Chicken Feet Anyone?