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.

1 comment:

  1. Love the District Meeting photos. I did those too when I was in VA. Also the video - Samuel looks like he's having so much fun! There is so much to learn and to teach in Africa. :o