Sunday, April 27, 2014

4/27 - Chairs, Keys, DVDs



One of the things that I love about Africa is never being cold.  The weather is always in the high 70’s to low 80’s 24 hours a day.  It is usually warm enough at midday to perspire but is never hot like Sacramento summers.  We never need to grab a jacket because it is always warm, day and night.  We’ve seen some brief rainfalls but they say August is the real rainy season.

Our days are busy and very satisfying.  We have so many friends now and always feel like we’re learning, helping people and making a difference.

Our monthly trip to Yaounde was more fun this time because the Moodys are living there.  We went back to Mount Febe and had a great time sharing experiences and getting to know them better.  I paid the bills, balanced the books, and transferred financial custody to them.  Then we had some free time to watch “Frozen” on the TV.  During the closing credits the power went out so we lit some candles and kept talking.
During our Hike on Mount Febe

Flowers on Mount Febe
 
A Rock at the Site Where Cameroon was Dedicated

On the way home we got a call from South Africa asking us to copy the General Conference DVDs that we will receive and send them to the Yaounde branches.  Apparently the regional office made a mistake in shipping and we were the only ones that could fix it in time for the Yaounde District viewing schedule.  So, we frantically made 5 copies of 6 DVDs and sent them by bus courier to the Moodys.

Another surprise on the way home was finding our truck completely surrounded by bundles in the lot where we had paid to park it.  We couldn't even get to it to put our backpacks in.  It took about a half hour for the workers to create a narrow channel for us to jockey it out.
That's Our White Truck Engulfed by Bundles

We finally bought new soft chairs.  Our two sofas are much too firm for comfort so we’ve had no furniture to relax in.  We shopped all over before finally settling on a little hole-in-the-wall furniture maker.  We found one we liked and he made it with the fabric of our choice.
Our Furniture Maker in his Showroom

One of Our New Chairs

Piano lessons in Douala were severely limited by a lack of electricity (the bill didn’t get paid) and a heavy rainfall.  Only 5 students showed up in the rain, but without electricity Sister Coleman had to make do with a chalkboard.  In Bonaberi there were 15 students who shared 7 keyboards for 2 hours and made great progress with Sister Coleman going from student to student.

I asked if there was a place nearby to get a new key made for us for the Sacrament Meeting room at Douala.  But the genius, Romeo Dim, found a better solution.  A new key costs $30.  A new lock barrel costs $10 and comes with 5 keys.  The shopkeeper came to the church, replaced the lock barrel, and I paid him the $10.  The branch president was thrilled.  I think the branch was sharing one key before.

On Friday nothing crazy happened!  We worked on reports, ran errands, and did chores with no surprises or sudden needs to change plans.  That is the first time of our mission we’ve had a day like that.  Isn’t that wild!

We had an expert from Kinshasa come to give clerk training on Saturday.  He did a fantastic job but ran out of time.  Our clerical challenges are many.  Names are complex combinations of family names with various spellings of African and European given names.  Nobody has a computer at home and apparently none of the records have ever been verified.  And nobody has an exact address.  Donations are all cash and banking procedures are archaic.  Salaries are low and needs are many and complex.  We’ve had to adapt standard church procedures to fit local requirements.

On Sunday the Bonaberi choir sang a special musical number in Sacrament Meeting with a little side-side, rhythmic dance step to keep time.  That’s the first time I’ve seen that.  Injecting a little African culture into the service.
The Train Coming down the Middle of the Street in the Rain

Sunday, April 20, 2014

4/20 - Dentist, Transfers, President Kola, Moodys, Keyboards, Easter



This week has been crazy busy.  I haven’t even had time to run or have companion study for several mornings.  In between several trips to the airport and bus depot, making meals, piano classes, and copying materials, we had to shop several times, see the dentist, pay bills, get to the post office, host a zone meeting, and a myriad of other duties and errands.  And nothing ever seems to go exactly according to plan.
Copy Center & Office Supplies (yes, that's the whole store)
Monday morning at 6:45 I went out and found water flowing down the stairs from the apartment above us.  They had left their kitchen faucet on and departed.  Since there is no water pressure at night they didn’t realize it.  When the water came on in the morning it flooded their apartment.  By the time our concierge called them and they came home and turned it off water was coming under our door and partly flooding our kitchen.  There is never a dull day here.

I mentioned before that I lost a filling.  We have been told to avoid African dentists, but if necessary we should fly to South Africa where the care is equal to that in America.  But it was such a small filling.  So, I asked around and got a few referrals.  The local clinic suggested that I go to a dentist in a hospital.  When pressed they referred me to a nearby dentist’s office.  I drove by on Sunday and it looked ok.  A young Elder informed me that a branch president in Yaounde is a dentist, so I started making plans to go there.  But I didn’t really want to wait an extra week.  Then I went through some old medical records in our apartment and found that an Elder went to a dentist 2 years ago and was happy with him.  So I called, made an appointment, took a tour, and got my filling there.  ($60)
Elder Coleman Getting a Filling
The office seemed to be sterile, modern, and well equipped.  The dentist seemed competent and I’m happy with my filling.  So, for minor dental work it isn’t necessary to leave the country to get good care.  That’s a relief.

Tuesday was supposed to be transfer day.  We took Elder Ngalamulume to the airport and waited.  Nobody showed up at the airline counter to check him in for his 10 am flight.  Finally they announced on the P.A. system that his flight was cancelled.  Ha Ha … just kidding, they don’t use a P.A. system.  They don't even have a TV monitor for departing flights.  And they couldn't be bothered to send someone to tell all the passengers in line that the flight was cancelled.  But we overheard some other passengers talking about it and checked with the airline office and found that indeed that flight was cancelled.  They took my number and promised to call with more info.  So, we went home and waited but they never called.  I emailed the mission home and they said that they would get him another flight but we will have to send his passport to Yaounde to get a transit visa so he can fly to Republic of Congo and take a boat to DR Congo.  That is so he won’t have to wait a week for the next direct flight.  But the transit visa will take almost a week.  TIA (This is Africa.)

His replacement, Elder Ndonda, was supposed to arrive Tuesday but came Wednesday instead.  He's a gung-ho missionary from DR Congo with a lot of experience and a great attitude.
Elder Ndonda
President K. Tusey Kola of the mission presidency arrived Wednesday in transit to Younde.  We found a decent hotel for him and shuttled him around.  He is a former Area Authority Seventy, the first from the Congo.

On Friday I picked him up at the bus station where President Nkong was waiting with Elder Nyom for Sister Ngono (both new missionaries from Cameroon.)  They needed to get to the airport fast so I gave them all a ride.  At the airport we found that their flight to the Ghana MTC didn’t exist and Gambia Bird Airlines doesn’t even serve Cameroon.  And yet the airline sold them tickets.  TIA.  So we took them all to our home for lunch while waiting for President Bala to make new arrangements.  Since the new missionaries’ yellow fever cards had been lost in the visa process they bought replacement cards at the airport ($15, no shots required).  The next morning they took a new flight on a different airline.
President Nkong, Sister Ngono, President Kola, & Elder Nyom
Elder Hunt finally got permission to enter Gabon!  He and another missionary will resume the work there where people are clamoring to get baptized.  When some missionaries who were there went home and officials didn’t want to let new ones in without a bribe, the work came to a halt.  The country was opened in January and the first baptism brought 21 new members.  But we can’t baptize without teaching.

Gabon also had a change of the senior couple.  The old Moody couple left and a new Moody couple took their place (cousins.)  The old Moody couple went to serve their last month in Yaounde, stopping to visit us on the way.  Yes, he is “that” Michael Moody who organized our hymnal and wrote the tune to “Testimony”, hymn #137.

Our piano keyboards arrived!  They had been held up in customs for a month before we found out.  We explained our use and gave the official a brochure and he decided not to charge us duties since it is for the church.  It could have been over $500, since they are allowed to charge up to 100% duties, depending on their whims.  We were relieved.  But the process took over an hour, and traffic was terrible, making us late for piano class.  Eleven people showed up this time at Douala and 17 at Bonaberi.  Fortunately, Elder & Sister Moody helped teach the Bonaberi class, and the keyboards were a hit.
Piano Class in Bonaberi & the Moodys

Our zone leaders had a zone training meeting in our home, so we served lunch.  Their new goal is to visit the members and foster love and unity in the branches.  For those interested in the food we eat, here is what we served for a light lunch:
Pizzas with pineapple, bacon, sausage, & Emmenthal cheese.  For sauce I used a Balsamic tomato sauce they sell here.
Salad (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers)
Banana bread
Sprite & Fanta
Elders Ngalamulume, Nyom, Leavitt, West, Beutler, & Baker

Elders Brockbank, Hunt, Ntambwe, & Okon & Sister Coleman
At choir practice Saturday we couldn’t get the door unlocked to get into the chapel.  So Sister Coleman played a recorder and we rehearsed in the courtyard in front of the church.  After about 2.5 hours and a closing prayer we left but the rest of the group stayed to hang out as darkness fell.  The members here know how to have fun together and often are found just hanging out at the meetinghouse talking and laughing.
Douala Branch Choir
For Easter, Sister Coleman made baskets out of paper plates, filled them with homemade cookies and a tiny cake and an egg and delivered them to the missionaries.  Actual American-style Easter items are available in the store here priced somewhere between sky-high and astronomical, so we got creative.
Some of the Missionaries with Easter Baskets
Our Easter church services included a few extra musical numbers.  There are no Easter eggs or baskets in the Cameroon culture, so Easter might include a special church service and a special meal, but that is all.

Where we Usually Buy Fruit & Veggies

Packed Mini-Bus with Passenger Standing on Bumper
Packed Mini-Bus (a common sight) Passing on Sidewalk


Sunday, April 13, 2014

4/13 - New Clerk, Health Issues, Rain



This week was more relaxed than usual with very little scheduled.  But, as usual, surprises were around every corner and every day was a new adventure.  Sometimes it feels like our main job is entertaining guests, which is a pretty fun job.

Monday was P-day, so we tried to get caught up on chores, but it wasn’t meant to be.  In the afternoon, the missionaries called and asked to come over and watch “Ephraim’s Rescue,” so I tried to make some pizzas.  I discovered that we had no yeast and the oven was not hot enough, so they didn’t turn out very good, but the Elders ate them anyway.

Then Dr. Samuel came over to visit.  Dr. Samgwa’a Samuel is a physician who also runs a charity that helps orphans and abandoned children.  He just finished paying for his father-in-law’s funeral when his mother fell sick.  Her hospital expenses took all his money before she died, so now he can’t pay for her funeral.  And in the meantime, the German sponsor of his charity died so he is being forced to disband it unless he can find another source of funds.  He’s looking for about $100K per year to help 90 kids with support, comfort, advice, vocational training, etc.  His website is www.hhupc-tf.org .  He wants us to come and see his facility.

Tuesday Elder Nyom (set apart last week) was feeling very sore and tired.  By the time we got over to see him he said that he was improving.  We took his temperature (99.8) and told him to drink a lot and eat gentle foods and call if he gets worse.  It is probably not serious.

Thursday Elder Ngalamulume told us about pain in his eyes.  We consulted with the mission president, who is a physician.  Again, nothing too serious, but this week he is being transferred to Kinshasa where the president can keep an eye on him.  This week is transfer week, but he is the only transfer in Douala.  We're going to miss him.  He's a great missionary.

Sister Coleman got a haircut next door.  The salon is comparable to a US salon and charges almost as much.  It’s hard to find someone who knows how to do Caucasian hair.  The Elders can get their hair cut at a local barber for between 40 cents and a dollar.

Our water supply has been very erratic lately.  We’ve had to take bucket showers a few times and once we ate at a restaurant to avoid washing dishes.  I changed the sediment filters but installed an incorrect filter and had to fix it to get decent flow when the water finally came back on.

Piano lessons in Douala drew only 5 students, probably because it wasn’t announced in church.  Boniberi had 13 students.
He Wanted to Wear My Tie at Piano Class

Thursday brought our first torrential rainstorm during a piano class.  A pair of missionaries showed up at the building completely drenched.  They had to stand under an awning for a while before they were dry enough to come in.  We waited until it let up a bit before leaving the church, giving the Elders a ride and heading home.  There seemed to be a lot of trash in the road, a few extra disabled cars, and some deep puddles along the way, but no huge traffic problems.  The storm did knock out power briefly a few times and the internet for 24 hours.

Friday we hosted another lesson for Noah.  He wants to be baptized but the Elders seem to be teaching the lessons very slowly to make sure that he is really ready.  This is Africa and that's the way it is done here.

I did some clerical training for a new clerk.  The records are a bit messy here because names tend to be flexible.  People use different names for different occasions.  The kids in a family might not have the family name as a surname, or might use it as a middle name.  And spelling is widely variable.  The clerk probably needs to correct one third of the names.

The Douala Branch choir director, Claudelia, is a hoot.  She snaps her fingers to beat time while we sing.  Once she had us tap our toes and read the words.  That sounded like a thundering herd.  She told Sister Coleman once to play the song faster, so I gently suggested that Sister Coleman is a professional and will play as fast as she leads.  She is young but seems to have a creative streak that is coming out now that she has a pianist.

There is a member in the town of Kribi (about 2 hours drive) who comes to church in Douala occasionally.  He says that he has been teaching a group of 8-9 people and wants missionaries to come to teach them.  But our instructions are to wait until some members move there and we can establish a branch before teaching or baptizing anyone.  This is Africa.  I'm hoping that when the mission splits in July that we can send missionaries to start branches in some of these smaller cities.

I discovered a missing filling, so I’m going to have to find a dentist.  More on that later.
Drive-by Photo of Crane that Fell Across Road

Rigging the Generator at the Church when Power Failed

Sunday, April 6, 2014

4/6 - Limbe, a Marche, New Elders, Pres. Visit, & a Funeral



So much has happened this week that it's hard to believe it's been only one week.  Sorry, but this is going to be a long post.  The biggest cultural event was the funeral, but I'll describe the week in chronological order so that is near the end.

Monday (P-day) we took the Elders to Limbe for some R&R.  We took 3 in our truck and they hired a driver to take the other five for $50 RT (25k cfa).  The Hotel Seme Beach cost $3 per person but had a nice black sand beach, small waves, and warm Atlantic water.  We all waded knee-deep.  We rented a volleyball for $2 and had a few games.  Elder Leavitt climbed a coconut tree, we played with a soccer ball and had a tailgate lunch.  Elder Okon had never been to a beach and was startled by the feeling of the ocean washing the sand from under his feet.  Three friendly horses were roaming free on the beach so I petted one but Elder Okon couldn’t get used to the idea that such a huge animal was safe and ran away when the horse nodded at him.  Riding was $6 for 30 minutes or $10 for 60 minutes, but missionaries aren’t allowed.

Our Zone in Limbe

Elders Ntambwe & Ngalamulume
Then we went to the Limbe Wildlife Center, which cares for rescued primates.  It is small for a zoo, but large enough to be comfortable for the gorillas, mandrills, drills, monkeys, etc.
Up Close with a Drill at the Limbe Wildlife Center
We had some referrals from Limbe and nearby Buea (pronounced BOO’ yah) so we contacted nearly all of them, met two, and shared a bit about the gospel, leaving them with copies of the BoM and pamphlets.  We also visited with a member in the area, Eric, who hasn’t been able to attend church due to the long distance.  I think that when the Church is stronger in Douala and a district is formed, Limbe will need to form a group or branch of its own.  There are so many people there and many are interested, but we have to proceed in a slow, orderly manner.  It is frustrating that we don’t have enough missionaries to start and staff branches everywhere.
Eric from Buea
Along the way we enjoyed marvelous scenery, with views of Mount Cameroon, the second tallest mountain in Africa.  We passed a huge Dole banana plantation, a huge rubber tree plantation, villages, vendors, and greenery everywhere.  We crossed a bridge and saw numerous dug-out canoes on the river.
Mount Cameroon
She had a Tray of Bananas on her Head & We Bought Some
We came home with some mild sunburns but everyone had a great time.

Notes on the transportation:  We couldn’t find a regular bus service so we decided to just use a taxi.  Then a branch member (Michel) had a friend who had a friend.  We planned to leave at 6am but the friend didn’t show up on time so we finally hit the road about 7am.  Traffic was heavy.  There was one 500 cfa toll each way and the friend got stopped by cops once, paying a 1k cfa tip for carrying too many passengers.  We didn’t get stopped at all, but we were completely legal.

Tuesday we spent most of the day with 3 young women: Purita, Laurelcia, and Wesly.  They took us shopping and taught Sister Coleman how to make an African meal.  Purita knows how to shop at a marche (open air marketplace).  She would ask the price, the vendor would say 2,000, and Pruita would say “Give it to me for 500.”  The price would always come down, often to what she asked.  When we tried to find a fan she told us to wait while she negotiated, because when the vendor sees a white person the price goes up.
Marche Central with Laurelcia & Purita
Marche Central is an amazing place.  There are thousands of tiny stalls crowded into dozens of narrow dirt passageways and selling just about anything.  Except rolled oats.  They are an exotic foreign item here and nobody even recognizes the French word for oats.  It is also surprisingly difficult to find a saucepan with a lid.  But sunglasses typically go for a buck if you are black.  One vendor was afraid to have her picture taken.  Another insisted on a photo, even though we didn’t want to.  Both were senior women selling food items.  We gave out a lot of brochures and could have given out more if we had them and more time.  Just saying that we are missionaries draws a crowd.

When we got home the girls made ndole, boiled plantains, and manioc strips.  The ndole is mostly leaves and peanuts so it seems quite nutritious.  But we are still getting used to the taste.
Wesly, Faith Divine, Laurelcia, & Purita in our Kitchen
We learned of a new Elder arriving just 6 hours before his plane landed.  Elder West arrived and we took him to the Douala Elders’ apartment.  Elder Etherington arrived late at night and we had a day’s notice.  That gave us time to buy sheets and pillows for the 3 new Elders.

Three Elders, because Elder Barthelemy Nyom was set apart as a full-time missionary.  He enters the MTC in 2 weeks but the mission president was here for a day now, so he got set apart and moved in with the Elders here to serve his first 2 weeks in his hometown.
Elder Barthelemy Nyom with Pres. & Sister Cook
The president here meant more interviews, meetings, and driving around town, but we enjoyed it.

We had to pick up 5 packages from the post office for various missionaries.  This time the big supervisor came out and demanded big duties.  We had heard about that guy.  He came down a bit when I gently protested but we still ended up paying $10 each for some packages of candy, a toy, and a couple of pens.  (He sliced each package open with a bread knife and examined the contents.)  Normal duties are $20 for small packages.  If the packages were for me, I would be tempted to tell them to keep the candy because it’s not worth it.  I think that would prick their consciences, because people are very religious and really respect missionaries here.  Maybe brownies again next time.

Piano lessons went well with 14 students this time.

We got stopped by another cop for no apparent reason.  Sister Coleman told me to let her do the talking this time.  She started right off and told the cop that we are from the USA and we are missionaries.  He told us to drive on.  Hooray!  But Sister Coleman gave him a brochure before we left.

We attended the funeral services for Frere Bongongui (the first Mormon in Douala) and found them quite enlightening.  The first phase started Friday at 11:30 am, although we had to drop Elder Etherington off at the airport at that time, so we were one hour and 45 minutes late.  Fortunately, they hadn’t started yet.  Services were at the military hospital in an open hangar-like building with plastic patio chairs with fancy chair covers.  One-by-one they brought out 8 caskets and had a 20-minute service for each.  We arrived in time to see the one before Frere Bongongui.  When it was his turn we all (about 90) moved to the chairs in the center, sang songs, listened to a talk, and had a prayer.  Then we left.  But it wasn’t over.

The second phase started at 8:00 pm at the village chief’s home (the cheferie).  The street was blocked by 400-500 chairs covered by awnings, and eventually there was standing room only.  Sister Coleman played the keyboard as our choir sang hymns until the chiefs arrived about 9:00.  There were about 40 “notables” or sub-chiefs with the chief, wearing shirts, skirts and skullcaps, and they arrived with much ringing of handbells and beating of “bolo” drums.  Then the service could start.  It was a good LDS service with songs, prayers, and 3 talks.  Then the chief took over and said a few words in the local dialect (Douala) interspersed by drumming.  Some time was given for the widow and daughter to say a few tearful words.  Then all of the notables went into the room with the coffin and stayed about 15 minutes while we enjoyed a drum duet.  About 10:30 the service ended and the Church members went into a courtyard for a refreshments of sandwiches and sodas.  Traditionally, this service is supposed to be a “veuille” or wake and last all night, but they decided to let the widow go to bed.
Funeral Setup in Street
Village "Enforcer"

Village Chief & Notables (sub-chiefs)
The next morning we met at 11:30 am for the burial service.  After a few talks and songs and parading of the casket, we formed four lines to walk to the cemetery, with women at the front (which I found out the hard way).  The church members led the hearse, directed by a village “enforcer” who cleared traffic.  (The enforcers is what I call the guys wearing Bonaduma t-shirts, wraparound skirts, and sandals.)  We were instructed to keep our lines widely spaced to fill the entire boulevard while the enforcers directed traffic away from us.  Our death cemetery march took over 30 minutes (at midday in the tropical sun) but we sang and kept walking followed by the hearse and the family and village in a long precession.  At the cemetery, the branch president dedicated the grave, the pall-bearers lowered the casket with ropes, 13 huge floral sprays were thrown in with handfuls of dirt, and we took a taxi back to our truck.
The Front Group of the Cemetery March
Tossing Flowers into the Grave
 At one point a motorcyclist tried to drive between the chairs and awnings.  He was grabbed by a sub-chief who reprimanded him for a minute while occasionally hitting him with a thin stick.  He shut off his engine and pushed his bike away.

During the procession one of the bystanders got in a fight with one of the enforcers.  There was a lot of yelling and shoving and a few swings but curiously no blows were landed.  With all of the other enforcers and village people around, nobody else got involved.  It was almost like they were pretending to fight, just for show, without wanting to hurt anyone.

The bolo drums were really hollowed-out sections of logs.  The drummers beat on them with sticks getting two different pitches per log.
Dugout "Bolo Ba Besombe" Drums
Inside the “Cheferie” or chief’s house courtyard is a traditional house made of sticks and leaves.  It is very well-built but just for show.
Traditional House, Now Just for Show at the Cheferie
When we arrived home Friday night about 11:30 our keys wouldn’t unlock our apartment!  Something was sticking in the lock.  We fiddled with it, our guards fiddled with it, we drove around looking for a place to buy WD40 or the equivalent (& finding everyplace closed), we returned and fiddled with it some more, and I tried putting oil and soap on the key.  We considered a hotel but weren’t carrying enough cash.  It looked like we would be sleeping in the truck.  Finally, after about an hour and much prayer, one of our guards got the key to open the lock.  Prayer works.  The next morning I took the lock apart and found the cause: some of the screws were a bit loose.  After this I will always carry a key to our back (kitchen) door.

Saturday morning we got an early phone call from the branch 1st counselor.  During the nighttime thunderstorms branch member Bernadette’s roof was damaged.  She didn’t have enough cash to fix it and the counselor didn’t have quite enough to help.  The branch president couldn’t be reached.  We inspected the damage and secretly kicked in $20 to make up the difference so the work could get started.  Then we hauled the material in our truck.  It is so hard to say no when the need is so urgent, but we know that help should come through the president, so we try to resist.
A House Similar to Bernadette's & the Alley Leading to Hers
Bernadette's Damaged Roof
After church and some socializing, all of the missionaries came over and watched the first session and priesthood session of General Conference.  I set up a computer in our bedroom with the sessions in French for the 3 francophone missionaries.  In between sessions we had dinner.  It’s fun to get together like that.  We love our job!
All 10 Missionaries Here for Conference & Dinner
Random Photo of Common Banana Truck

Fish from Marche Just Before I Ate It