Sunday, December 28, 2014

12/28 - Christmas, Talent Night

All of the missionaries spent Christmas day at our home.  Sister Coleman filled eight stockings with treats for them.  It took 6 hours for all of the Elders to skype with their families (except the Congolese, who phoned).  We ate beignets, chili, pizza, veggies, banana bread, cookies, and a bûche de Noël.  We watched the Christmas Devotional and some other Church videos and acted out the nativity.  There were also a few games and a lot of fun.  Not quite like being at home, but we’re like a family here.
Elders Colindres, Kabasele, Johnson, West, & Rakotondrabeharison

Elders West, Rakotondrabeharison, Larson, & Legerski

Elders Kabasele, Johnson, Colindres, West, Mwehu, Larson, Legerski, & Rakotondrabeharison

Traditional French Bûche de Noël

Elders Mwehu, Rakotondrabeharison, Legerski, Johnson, Kabasele, Colindres, Larson, & West

Saturday the Douala Branch had a talent night.  There was singing, dancing, rap, poetry, oratory, cooking (crepes), drawing, table-setting, a rap/dance by the missionaries, and I did a little magic.  The scheduled start time was 2pm but it started a couple of hours late and went until 7.  Then the dinner started.  One of the biggest, wildest parties of the year.
Frère Dadi (2nd counselor) Dressed for the Party

Soeur Su demonstrates Crêpe-Making

Dance by the Primary Girls

Demonstration of Table-Setting

Joseph & Rosine sing a song about Temple Marriage

Another Primary Dance

The Douala Branch will have a place to meet!  A contract was signed yesterday.  Tuesday we have to move out of our meetinghouse so we will be in limbo for a couple of days.  Then Thursday we can start to move in to the new place.

We’ve baked lots of cookies and banana bread loaves as Christmas gifts.

We dropped in to the US Embassy Branch office to check it out.  The one American official was gone for the holidays.

We plan to skip a week of blogging.  We are going to Utah for 10 days to help our daughter who just gave birth to a daughter.  Have a happy New Year!
Mother holding baby on the back of a motorcycle

Sunday, December 21, 2014

12/21 - Orphanage, Parties, Farewell to Elder Hatch

One week before Christmas and shopping is picking up in Cameroon.  One store, Arno, was noticeably more crowded than usual and for the first time we had trouble parking there.  Many stores, lampposts, and public places have Christmas lights and decorations.  Just a hint of a Christmas season, compared to America.

Our big adventure this week was a visit to an orphanage with the Bonaberi Relief Society.  We went to deliver some rice, cooking oil and soap for which the RS had raised money.  The orphanage was nicer than I expected.  The 32 kids were well-dressed, well-behaved, and appeared to be well-cared for.  We drove in through a big iron gate that secures the compound.  The kids came out to the courtyard to shake our hands.  Then we went into the big hall for speeches and a performance.  They live off of donations and get no help from the government.  They raise goats, pigs, chickens, and rabbits and grow plants to feed them.  The owner, Mme. Collette, waved around a rubber hose that she uses to enforce discipline, which is shocking to us but seems common and acceptable here.
RS Sisters with a Pastor (l) & Orphanage Director (in green)

The Boys' Quarters

Orphans Performing a Song & Dance (so cute!)

Chatting with the older boys

The grounds with goats

Chickens & Bunnies

The Bonaberi Branch had a Christmas party and decorated the chapel/cultural hall with two artificial, decorated Christmas trees.  The primary activity was supposed to start at 2:00 but none of the leaders seemed to have anything planned.  No problem; the kids ran around and organized games among themselves for an hour.  Then the gang settled down in the chapel and sang Primary songs and hymns while the kids took turns leading.  We don’t know what happened after that because we loaded up the truck with RS sisters and left for the orphanage.  When we came back the whole branch was eating a supper of foufou, ndole, fish, chicken, meatballs, rice, and fried plantains.
Bonaberi Branch kids love to pose for a photo

Branch Christmas Tree

Spontaneous Group Game

The kids organized themselves for group singing
Cooking fish on a wood stove for the branch party

We had a going away party for Elder Hatch on Monday.  He selected hamburgers and french fries for his meal, with flan for dessert.  The one thing that we couldn’t provide was pickle relish.  It is one of the few things that are unavailable here.
Elders Mwehu, Larson, Legerski, Hatch, Johnson, Rakotondrabeharison, Colindres, & West

Elder Kabasele, Johnson, Hatch, Colindres, & Mwehu

The next day we welcomed Elder Kabasele into our zone to replace Elder Hatch.  Elder Kabasele is from the DRC and speaks little English.  He is now in the same apartment as his compatriot, Elder Mwehu, so they can prepare and enjoy together the Congolese food that they love, instead of that yucky American food that the other Elders eat.  That’s right, Africans are picky eaters.
Elder Kabasele, newly arrived in Douala

Odile asked an interesting question once.  She was concerned about her deceased father.  “In our tradition, after a man has been dead for a year we remove his head and put it in a special place.  Will that be a problem when he is resurrected?”  No.  Wait.  You do what?

One thing that is funny here is directions.  Few people drive cars and few know how to read a map or which way is north.  Even left and right are confusing to many.  So when I am driving and someone is giving directions, each turn is described the same: “On va comme ca.” (Go like that.)  Then I have to swivel my head to see where they are pointing.  Sometimes I just ask “left or right?”  Most of the time they know which is which, but it is risky.

We told someone that we are going to Utah for a few days and he asked us to pick up something from a friend in Virginia while we are there.  We explained the distances involved but I’m not sure he managed to conceive of a country as huge as the USA.

We had to cancel piano lessons the third week in a row due to a lack of electricity at the Douala Branch building.  We will be glad to get a new building.  We are nearing the final contract signing.

In case any of the previous Douala couples are reading this let me say a big THANK YOU!  You have done a great job setting up the couples apartment and getting the branches going.  It must have been very difficult to open up the city, find safe lodging, furnish the apartments, and adapt to all the craziness that is life in Douala.  Life for us is great, thanks to you.

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

12/14 - Building hunting, Auto accident, Soccer

Douala is starting to look like Christmas, with lights and decorations popping up here and there.  Artificial Christmas trees are available in some stores and shelf space has been cleared to display more toys.  In EcoMarché grocery store you can load up your cart with Christmas decorations and chocolate Easter bunnies.  (They have been selling Easter candy for a long time but it is still really expensive.)
Display in EcoMarché Grocery Store

We went with Emmanuel Mbayo, from the Church real estate rental department in Kinshasa, to look at potential meetinghouses.  He came to Douala for a week to pick a building and get a contract approved and signed.  Real estate is a messy business here.  Everything is by word of mouth.  Nobody knows how big a house is, you just have to look at every house and take measurements.  We looked at 9 buildings found by 4 different people.  Some were obviously inadequate but we found 4 that might be large enough.  One seems to be the clear winner in a comparison of features, so now we have to wait for the church approval process.

The top New Meetinghouse contender. (That's the guard on the porch.)

Now I’m not much of a worrier, but in 16 days the branch has to be moved into a new location!  The new building will take a lot of work to install air conditioners, a pulpit, a sound system, probably install some new walls, repair, clean and paint.  I just keep telling myself that there is nothing I can do.  Don't worry.  Let the Africans do it their way.  Breathe in…  Breathe out.

The Bonaberi Branch has no plans for a Christmas party but the Douala Branch does, sort of.  They scheduled a talent night for this Saturday, but since nobody planned it they postponed it for a week to Dec 27th.  Today they picked a time and formed a committee.  I suggested putting up a poster with information and accepting any willing participants instead of just picking the good ones, like they were considering.  How did they not start planning this months ago?  Breathe in…  Breathe out.

We lost water pressure for a day and had to take bucket showers, which reminded us how good we have had it.  We haven’t had to take bucket showers for months.  Electricity and the internet have had no major outages for over 100 days now.  Life is good.

I had a minor auto accident while driving home from branch presidency meeting.  There was a major traffic jam and while I was stopped, a van came from the side and got a little too close.  When traffic finally started to move I moved forward a few feet and heard my rear bumper tearing off the van’s front grill.  It was obviously their fault and there was no damage to my truck, but when they saw that I was white they pled poverty and asked me to give them money to fix their van.  I was tempted to just pay them and go, but I’m afraid that that would make missionaries a target.  I chose instead to wait for the police, which they said they were calling.  The police never arrived, because they didn’t really call them.  I called home where there was an attorney (Jean Marie Su) waiting to have dinner with us.  He offered to help so I waited for him.  The van guys pestered me to give them $10, then said they would be okay with $6.  Finally they just decided to give up and go.  But then my attorney arrived and put things into perspective for them, with me being a missionary and all.  He started preaching the gospel, inviting them to church, and swapping phone numbers.  He’s great.  I was afraid that they might blame their misfortune on the Church, so I didn’t give them brochures, but by the end we all smiled and shook hands.
The van behind my truck with its grill on the grass.

We had the Su’s over to dinner, with the missionaries, to celebrate Sister Su’s baptism.  She had been in France for 2 months.  While there, she took all of the lessons, gained a testimony and was baptized, surprising her husband.  I had baptized her husband in August.  She is French, although born in Cameroon.  They have the cutest 2-year-old boy, Noah.
The Su Family

Noah with Sister Su & Sister Coleman

We couldn’t teach Edimo and Odile this week because Edimo is afraid Odile will leave him to live the law of chastity.  But we had a good lesson with Nicole, the librarian at City Hall.  And we taught Bolivier who has had lessons for years and wants to be baptized soon.  He got mad at one of the Elders so we offered to help smooth thing over.  The Elders chose instead to just give him to us to teach.  He speaks English quite well, so Sister Coleman enjoys doing more of the teaching.

The Young Men challenged the Elders Quorum to a soccer rematch.  I played the first half but then more people arrived and there were too many so I sat out.  There were no significant injuries and everyone had fun.  It overlapped piano class time but there was no power at the church so the pianos couldn't work anyway.

Ready for the Douala Branch soccer game

I substituted as choir director for the rehearsal because Claudelia was ill.  I tried to imitate my favorite choir director (Vanesa), but required a lot of help from my favorite pianist (Sweetie-Pie.)

Sister Coleman taught the Sunday School lesson in Gospel Principles class and did it all in French, except for a little bit that I translated.  It went well, in spite of a lizard that wandered in to investigate.
Woman carrying a wheel rim full of charcoal on her head
 I asked Sister Coleman to snap a photo of the group of school kids we were passing.  This is what she got.  When I looked at it later I noticed what the boy in the foreground is carrying.  You know you're in Africa when kids bring machetes to school.
School boy walking home with machete

We pass this family of well-dressed beggars every day.
 This next photo was supposed to be of a handcart, but it also caught an interesting banner reading "Fight against urban disorder and unhealthiness.  Clear the sidewalks.  Paint the houses."  Hmm.  What about the big piles of garbage in the street behind the handcart?
Handcart (Pouspous)

A taxi crammed full of suitcases

Sunday, December 7, 2014

12/7 - Maritime Museum, Marriage Proposal, Leonel's Video

The week was mostly filled with the usual, so I'll just highlight the new stuff.

For a zone activity we visited the Douala Maritime Museum.  We saw exhibits on the slave ships, dugout canoes, fishing nets, shipping vessels, and navy ranks and gear.  Curiously, they never mentioned any Cameroon navy ships.  I think all they have is small boats.  But the museum is less than a year old and very nice, though small.  We weren’t allowed to photograph any of the interesting exhibits.

The sign combines English and French

Knot Display in the Museum

After the museum we went down to the bay to see the view.
At Douala Bay
At Douala Bay
We ate at a Tex-Mex restaurant that we chanced to find.  The only Texan item on the menu was a cheeseburger, and the Mexican selection was sparse.  My burritos looked like tacos, which explains why there were no tacos on the menu.  Expensive, but they tasted good.

We went with a branch member to provide moral support as his family proposed marriage.  It is way different here.  The young couple has little to do with a marriage proposal.  The groom’s father did all of the talking, and had to present the proposal to the bride’s father’s family and then in another meeting to the bride’s mother’s family.  He had to pay something to the bride’s father’s family.  Next, the groom’s father will go to the bride’s village to receive the demands for the “dote,” or bride price.  Each of the bride’s relatives can ask for something.  Once the price is paid the couple is free to get married.

We visited another family, named Hansen, who has done everything except the official marriage.  They have put that off so they could save up for a big party, because if they don’t have a big party the family will be offended.  We encouraged them to just get married and then start planning a big party.  It doesn’t have to be the same day.  They have settled on January 20th for the wedding at city hall.
The Hansen Parents with Elders Colindres & Hatch

One of the elders chipped a tooth so we took him to Dr. Bouda, our favorite dentist.  He did the repair work and replaced a loose filling just like an American dentist with little discomfort and no Novocain.  And his prices are very low compared to US dentistry.

I mentioned Leonel’s Joseph Smith video in my last post.  If you want to see it, it is on YouTube in reduced resolution at:
It has been noticed by Margaret Young, a former BYU professor who is working on a film called “Heart of Africa.”  It looks like she will invite him to join her project.  That is so exciting!  Again, if you know anyone needing video animation expertise, please pass the link.

We taught our Temple Prep class again in Bonaberi.  This time we started even later than last time, because Relief Society went an hour and 20 minutes overtime.  But most of our class waited patiently and we had about 18 students this time.
Frère Totto came to church in a traditional outfit

Bolivier - soon to be baptized

The artistic stack of pots at Shell New Bell

This is a divided highway.  Why are all of those motos on the wrong side?

Handcart (Pous-Pous) crossing the road

Where did this herd of goats come from and why are they downtown?