Sunday, August 31, 2014

8/31 - Baptisms, Cartes, Audits, Recital, African Philosophy

The missionaries had four convert baptisms this week, three in Douala and one in Bonaberi.  The growth rate in Cameroon is slower than in the Congo, but the Church is still growing fast and struggling to train new leaders.
Elders Bacera & Hatch, Malaiteke Palmata, Njeshu Renate, family, Elder Colindres

Bissua Emerique (baptizee) & Njampou Jean Claude
President Ngueti & Nsonbo Edouard Bayard (baptizee)
We had a nice teaching visit with Jean Marie Su, his wife and Elders Johnson & West.  I finally got a photo of him with the book that brought him the gospel: a 1989 priesthood manual that he bought from a street vendor 9 years ago.  When he saw my badge he recognized the Church and was excited that it is in Cameroon.  He asked me to baptize him next Saturday, because the Lord led him to me.
Jean Marie Su & his first Church book

Sister Coleman discovered that two of our Elders have visas that are about to expire.  We started the process to get them resident cards but were told by our expert, President Bala of the Yaoundé District, that they couldn’t get them because they are Africans.  He said that we could just extend their visas by 3 months.  But I asked anyway and, miraculously, Inspector Eveline said yes, since they are missionaries!  We’re getting to be good friends with her.

We finished the branch audits.  The branches are very willing to fix the things that they have been doing wrong so it is all good.  There didn’t appear to be any theft of funds, which was my biggest worry.

The Dimonds visited from Youndé for some dental work.  They weren’t able to quickly find a good dentist in Yaoundé so they trusted my recommendation.  The work was minor and they were happy.  The dentist even said that he wouldn’t charge them, but they insisted.

Sister Coleman’s first piano recital (in Bonaberi) was a big success.  All 13 of the students scheduled to perform were there early and a new student even got written in at the last minute.  They all did great and the branch was supportive.

Noah invited us to dinner with his “adopted” family.  We had the traditional Cameroonian food: Ndole, fish, miondo (manioc), rice, and boiled plantains.  We had a nice visit.  Coming and going were grandkids, nieces, nephews, and other relatives.  Extended families are always close in Africa.  The little girl speaks English so we taught her "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider."
Noah's "family"

Manioc, Ndole, Rice, & Fish

We celebrated my birthday quietly with cake, ice cream, and a video.  Most of our appointments got cancelled, leaving us with spare time, so we just enjoyed it.

Douala Branch President Nkong told me something that explains a lot about African philosophy.  He said that in western and eastern cultures people are ashamed to be dependent on others.  But in Africa people like to be dependent on others.  That is why they don’t save money or food and they often ask for help.  He said that the Church teachings on self-sufficiency are very important and must be learned by Africans.  Is that possible, I wondered, and he said yes, although it will take  a long time.  He said that after years of practice he is doing pretty well at living within his means and saving, but every so often his African heritage takes over and he catches himself overspending.  He mentioned a time in 2008 when there was some kind of insurrection and all of the stores were closed for a week.  Since most people have no food storage, it was a major hardship.
Highly rated Karim Auto, where I might get my truck fender fixed

Sunday, August 24, 2014

8/24 - Drama, Visa Problems, Tiny Miracles, Observations

I’ll start with the good news:
The drama in the Douala Branch has been reduced.  I called a powwow between two leaders and, with the help of the Lord, they worked through all of their major grievances against each other.  A MIRACLE!  They seem to be ready to work together to advance the Lord’s work.  Hurray!

Noah helped us shop for a plastic table with removable legs.  We need it for a big dinner when Elder Hamilton visits next week.  We had checked all of the likely, expensive stores and found nothing.  He rolled down his window and asked some local guys.  10 minutes later we bought our table from a tiny store in a marché for about 1/10 of what we expected to pay.

I looked over Robert’s Rules of Order and created my own short version for the Douala branch council.  (Don’t interrupt without permission, don’t whisper, ask to be excused, etc. – basic kindergarten rules.)  They are now on the wall in the branch president’s office, he is teaching them, and people are following them.  (A tiny MIRACLE.)  The meetings had been quite disorderly but are much better now.  It is exciting to see real change like that.

Next is some mixed good/bad/neutral news:
We had a farewell party/dinner for Elder Ndonda on Monday with a good testimony meeting.  His departure was Thursday.  The night before he left he and his companion were angry and physically fighting (wrestling) over a camera memory card.  Fortunately, I was able to intervene over the telephone and the lost card was found.
Elder Ndonda Finished his Mission

Elders Ndonda, Roth, West, Johnson, Colindres, Rakotondrabeharison, Waite, Bacera, Hatch, Okon

We had to cancel Thursday.  We just didn’t have time for it.
On Thursday we took Elder Ndonda to the airport.  There he discovered an electronic tablet missing which caused him distress.  They wouldn’t let him check in because he didn’t have a valid visa or letter of invitation for Brazzaville.  I called and the president emailed me a letter.  I went to the cyber café in the airport to print it and found the café out of order.  I went to another down the street and found their electricity out.  He missed his flight so we went home with Elder Ndonda nearly in tears.  I found the Republic of Congo consulate (another MIRACLE in a city with no addresses) and we went there for an express visa.  They needed a photo so we went to a studio and got one.  We paid the consulate $200 and were told it would be ready in 2 hours.  Two hours  & 45 minutes later they told us that the letter of invitation was missing a signature.  An hour after that we paid $100 extra to “fix” the problem.  30 minutes later we got the visa.  Back at the airport with a new ticket we found that the name on the ticket didn’t exactly match his passport, as it used a variant of his 3 first names.  We got that fixed.  His baggage was overweight, so we paid $16.  Finally, at 7:30 pm, we got him through the paperwork and taxes and on his way, still distressed about the missing tablet.  We were so relieved.  We had had to cancel piano lessons and ignore all of our other work for that day, but we had an important learning experience.

We learned that the mission is so new that the office staff doesn’t know about visas.  From now on we will make sure visa applications are submitted well in advance.  We also learned that there is a Congo consulate near our home and we can get visas there without help from Yaoundé, yay!  They normally cost $60 for Europeans and $140 for Africans.  Really.  I know that sounds backwards, but it is true.  Other visa problems in the mission prevented us from getting another missionary to replace Elder Ndonda, so now we have a team of 3.

We were asked to go to the airport, pick up two Elders returning home to Yaoundé, and take them to the bus station.  The problem was that by the time we got the email we were already 3 hours late.  We dashed to the airport and found them patiently waiting.  This is Africa.
Elders Olama & Omam Returning Home
The internet quit working both here and in Yaoundé, so possibly in all of Cameroon for almost 2 days.  That caused a lot of grief.  The Elders couldn’t write home, we couldn’t download transfer letters, we couldn’t download Elder Ndonda’s flight information, and we found how much we truly depend on the internet for exchanging reports and information.

We had to pay $20 to retrieve a small box with $10 worth of birthday candy sent through the post office.  I argued but saw that it was useless because at that moment another customer was creating a scene over a similar charge.  We never know what to expect.  We called the missionary and he almost declined to pay, but he really wanted the letter in the box.  Maybe it is better to send packages through DHL.  Church materials always come through DHL and we never have to pay.  I don’t know how their prices compare or how customs are paid, but the local office is DHL Bonanjo, Douala, Cameroon.  If you try it, include my name and phone:  Elder Coleman, 76 31 07 35.  They call me and I pick it up.  We go there often.

I backed into a parked taxi that I didn’t see.  Fortunately, our bumpers were the same height so there was no damage and the owner said no problem.  Nobody wants the cops involved.

Now for some general observations:
Before I came to Africa I thought that missionary life would be great for Africans.  They would have 3 meals-a-day, medical care, decent housing, etc.  But I’ve learned that it is more difficult for Africans than for Americans.  Africans are not accustomed to the idea of getting up early, following a rigid schedule, and working a full day.  If they go to a different part of Africa, maybe 300 miles away, the food is so different as to give them digestive problems.  They don’t like taking medicine to prevent malaria, since they are accustomed to just getting malaria occasionally.  Communication with family is difficult because their family usually receives no mail or email.  That leaves twice-a-year phone calls.

Most people here are dark black but I don’t think about it.  I don’t even notice skin color unless someone is white or albino.  Color seems so unimportant.  But we’re learning that Africans see very subtle shades in skin color.  These make a big difference in how people interact.  It is sad that people always find ways to discriminate.  They need the gospel.

The rainy season is in full swing.  That means that the temperature is cooler and comfortable and it rains off and on every day, sometimes hard enough to make driving difficult.  Potholes are getting worse.  In a nearby, neatly mowed lawn a 10x20 foot sinkhole opened up about 6 feet deep.  Or as they call it here, “A new place to throw trash.”

Ebola is a big issue in Africa now.  Missionaries have been removed from some areas.  Fortunately, it is still far from Cameroon.  We have been given instructions on how to avoid it and what to do if it arrives.  In case you didn’t get the word, don’t eat bats or monkeys.
District Meeting:  Elders Colindres & West

District Meeting:  Elders Johnson & Bacera

District Meeting:  Elders Hatch & Rakotondrabeharison
This is Samuel, one of Sister Coleman's best piano students.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

8/17 - Couples Conference, Baptism, Audits

We got hit by a taxi.  We were stuck in traffic and suddenly we felt a hard impact from behind.  A driver pulled up alongside us and pointed to the car behind.  In my rearview mirror I saw a taxi.  Then traffic started to move so I just drove away pretending not to notice while two guys got out of the taxi to assess the damage to their Corolla.  Our truck has a heavy-duty pipe bumper, so I figured that we were probably not damaged.  And I know that they had a much greater chance of getting money out of a white guy than I would have of getting them to pay for damages, so I didn’t want to risk a confrontation.  White people are always assumed to be rich.  Later I found a lot of yellow taxi paint on our black bumper but no other damage.

This week was mostly spent in the Congo at a couples conference.  The eight senior couples flew to Brazzaville for meetings with the mission president.  Even though we come from different backgrounds we all feel like family and have a great time together.  We toured the new mission offices and home and one possible home for the future office couple.  We received instruction on mental health by Elder & Sister van Gass, who came from South Africa for the event.  Most importantly we were able to get answers to some of our pressing questions and have long discussions of issues with our president.
The Dimonds, Moodys, van Gass's, us, Mongas, & Baileys
Looking over the Congo River.  Notice the boys fishing.
A Brazzaville Restaurant for Lunch

President Monga’s family has sacrificed a lot to serve this mission.  He had just bought a farm, so he left his farm, home, and cars, not knowing what state they would be in upon his return.  They are living in a very nice mission home but their four children cannot go outside of their guarded, walled yard to make friends for fear that the police will catch them without passports and deport them.  (Brazzaville has been notorious for that lately.)  And of course, you can’t let kids carry their passports around.  Maybe when school starts it will be better.

But we really need the Mongas.  They have a lot of insight and understanding of the problems in Africa that Americans will never have.  Where the American leaders often say, "Things are different in Africa," President Monga will say, "That should not be different."  He knows which things are vital to African culture and which things can be changed to conform to a higher standard.  Even though he has only been here a month he has really made a difference.
Elder & Sister van Gass

Blaise, The Inter-Regional Auditor

Santie & Gaetan, The Mission Staff

We had one baptism in Bonaberi.  A young man named Jean Baptist.
President Ngueti & Jean Baptist

We started the branch financial audits and found that there are some problems.  Just imagine what it is like to keep records in a society where everything is done with cash and most purchases don’t give receipts.  Then put a lot of unemployed and poor people in charge of making purchases.  Everyone seems to be trying to do right but the new clerk and inexperienced branch president have their hands full.  We’re going to be doing more training.
Go or Stop?  When the light is green AND red you are truly free.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

8/10 - A Tough Week of Drama & Some Success

Monday started off calm.  Then in the evening Elder Okon called.  “Elder Ndonda has been coughing for 30 minutes and can’t talk.”  I asked some details and called the missionary doctor in South Africa for advice.  Two minutes later, Elder Roth called Sister Coleman and said, “Elder Ndonda is unconscious and no longer breathing.” 

It all started Monday evening when Elder Ndonda, who finishes his mission in less than 2 weeks, had suddenly started coughing as he was walking home.  He made it home with help from his companion but then got progressively worse.

The Elder/Doctor Barton said to quickly get him to an emergency room.  But he lives 20 minutes away, there is no 911 service, and there are no addresses so an ambulance wouldn’t be able to find him even if we knew how to call one.  We drove over as fast as we dared, during which time he started breathing again.  Then we hauled his unconscious, limp body down the stairs to the truck, put him on the back seat, and drove him to the best hospital in town where they gave him oxygen, an IV, and inhaled medicine.  Elder Okon, his companion stayed awake all night with him the first night to make sure he didn’t pull out his IV in his dazed state.  The doctor said that someone needed to be there because the hospital wouldn’t check on him very often.  By morning he was fully conscious and wondering what had happened, although still weak.  Three days later he was released from the hospital with a diagnosis of acute asthma and a list of drugs to take.  Today he is feeling good and back to work.  But please, Elder Ndonda, don't ever do that again.

The hospital only accepts cash, so we had to come up with it.  Fortunately, their prices are a bit lower than in the US even though the care is similar.  The total bill for the emergency room care, three nights in the hospital, medications, IVs, oxygen, respirator, doctor consultations, meals, and everything was about $450.  What a bargain!  And this is the best hospital in town with high standards of care.
Elder Ndonda in Emergency Room

Hospital Room

Elder Ndonda in Hospital Bed

The mission president was flying from Yaoundé to Brazzaville but his flight was cancelled so he rerouted his trip to pass through Douala with a 6 hour layover.  That got him home a bit later but he was able to visit Elder Ndonda in the hospital.

We’re trying to help resolve some problems with hurt feelings in the Douala Branch to keep a family from going inactive.  This took a lot of our time and energy this week.  It seems that Africans love drama and generate lots of it whenever they get together.  There are no theaters in town so people spend their time talking to and about other people.

But I’m really encouraged by leaders taking my advice in the Douala Branch.  There was no home teaching or visiting teaching program when we arrived.  Now all of the assignments have been made and posted and are being reported.  Schedules of activities are posted on the bulletin board.  Meetings are starting and ending on time.  Leaders are reading and following the handbook.  The Church is maturing.

One of Sister Coleman's students, Messie, wanted to take a piano home to show his mother how well he could play.  So we drove him home and let him use a piano there to play a few hymns.  His mom was cooking on a wood fire on the porch when we arrived.  His family is very nice.
Gabrielle, Messie (front), André, & Gregoire

Gregoire, Gabrielle, Messie, & our truck in front of their apt.

We watched a duel between taxis in front of us in which one actually bumped the other with the side of his fender to convince him to move over.  Now I know another reason why the taxis are all so beat up.

Who says this is a third-world country?  I bought a Big Mac from a restaurant named “McBurger.”  It was huge, maybe three times the size of a Big Mac from America.  Sister Coleman just bought a regular burger and it was also huge.  She had to throw half away.  The restaurant is owned by a young French man who married a Cameroonian.
McBurger Restaurant

McBurgers are Huge

McBurger Menu

History is being made in Douala.  Street signs are appearing everywhere!  Maybe street addresses are next.  It remains to be seen whether people start using street names and addresses, but I would dearly love to be able to find places using Google maps and an address.  Unfortunately, a lot of streets (ours included) have never been named.  I don’t think people will ever get used to calling our street “1.081” like it says on the sign.
Our Street has a Sign Now!
Today is our six-month mark for our mission.  We're still seeing new things and enjoying the adventure.
This Taxi was full but still managed to cram 6 men in the trunk.

Sometimes you have to share the road with a train.

Valere, the clerk, started a tiny jewelry factory
Last Week's Debate - Can You Spot Me? (Kind of like Where's Waldo)