Sunday, May 31, 2015

5/31/2015 - 4 Baptisms, Parties, Closing Ceremony

This week was crazy busy.  We hosted 2 “Married or Engaged” parties and closing ceremonies for our humanitarian project.  It was fun and rewarding but we are relieved that it is over and we made it through with no catastrophes.

Bonaberi had 4 baptisms: Epoule Anita Irenee, Cleb Junior Salomon, Kollo Hiheke Bertrand Joel, and Kollo Binze Princesse Victoria.  The branch mission leader asked me to baptize the two youngest children.
Elder Coleman, Bertrand, Anita, Princess, Junior, & Benjamin

In each branch we hosted a “Party for the Married and Engaged” that exceeded our wildest expectations.  Out of a possible 40 people in the Douala Branch 25 came, which was a lot for the size of the room.  In Bonaberi we had about 20 adults and a bunch of kids who came to watch.  We played 3 games and showed the movie “Fireproof”.  Everybody was roaring with laughter by the 3rd game and loved the movie.  We served peanuts, croquettes, punch, and wedding cake.  The Douala Branch president said that it was the best activity ever!
Bonaberi Married & Engaged Party

 The Tottos and Eberes eating wedding cake at the party

Douala Branch Married & Engaged Party

At the school we didn’t know whether to expect 50 or 500 people, so we made 300 salami sandwiches and bought 300 fruit drinks.  As a backup, we bought 200 small packs of cookies and bags of water.  We rented 100 chairs, an awning, and a sound system.  Two days before the event we were instructed that we must provide better food for the nobility and dignitaries, because they never eat bread.  And we need their help to "bring the Church out of obscurity."  The Relief Society stepped in and in one day prepared a fine buffet for 50.  I think that we served about 400 people (mostly school kids) and had no leftovers.  Serving that many kids was insane.
Making 300 Sandwiches
Elder Mwehu trying to distribute sandwiches fairly
The Food for the Royalty & Dignitaries

The Church public relations representative in Cameroon arranged for a national TV camera crew and a newspaper reporter to be there, although the TV guys finished and left long before the ceremony started.  They interviewed me, some school officials, and two cute kids.  One 7-year-old girl astounded everyone with her poise and delivery of a perfect 30-second impromptu speech for the TV camera, describing the problems with the paint, water, and gate and how happy she is that we fixed them. In the video below she tells me what she said.
A Charming 7-Year-Old Girl Talking to the TV Camera

I prepared a 5-minute speech about the history of the Church in Cameroon and what we did for the school.  I appreciated the laughter at my jokes and was interrupted a few times for applause.  Our helpers had helped me get the French right.  Sister Coleman played the national anthem on a piano and said the closing prayer.  It was fun trying to learn the national anthem beforehand.
Presenting the Keys to the School Principal

Sister Coleman provided prelude music and the national anthem.

Group Ready to Lead Us in the National Anthem

Seats for 100 Adults

Kids Waiting for the Ceremony

Our water pressure has been getting lower and lower for days.  Then on Saturday our guard found the reason: a leaking pipe out back.  Our water meter was spinning so I shut off our water.  We’ll get it fixed on Monday.  Saturday night we also found our refrigerator not working.  So now we have to live 2 days without tap water or refrigeration.  That is longer than normal.  We took some food to put in the Elders’ refrigerator and are taking bucket showers.

We picked up the mission president at the bus station and took him to the airport.  He came from Yaoundé.  It is easier to get from the capital of Cameroon (Yaoundé) to the capital of Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) if you start with a 4-hour bus ride to Douala where there are literally dozens of flights per week.  Sometimes it seems like a plane lands every hour here.

The mission president told us that he plans to build the Church and the missionary force enough to create a Cameroon Yaoundé Mission.  He said that such a mission would fulfill a prophecy made by Ezra Taft Benson.  In any case, you can read in the Ensign, June 1992, News of the Church section that a Cameroon Yaoundé Mission was about to be created.  It was delayed to wait for official recognition of the Church, but by the time that happened in September of 1993, alas, plans had changed.

One day we stopped at a supermarket and found it dark.  The power was out but they were still open.  All of the employees had flashlights and the cash registers ran on backup batteries.  It was eerie walking through the dark aisles, using a cell phone to try to read prices.  We just bought a couple of things and got out.
Star Piano Student Vinick earned a piano

Star Piano Student Samuel also earned a piano
After church today the Douala Primary had a birthday party.  This photo shows the entire room (see the three walls?).

Sunday, May 24, 2015

5/24/2015 - Painting the School, Zone Conference, Philosophy

The school project is finished except for the closing ceremony, hooray!  We managed to get all of the classrooms and much of the rest of the place painted in 2 days.  On the 2nd day, Saturday, there was a large group of kids there for a special class before testing.  The class got out about noon so I invited the kids to help paint.  About 20 of them stayed to help.  I think they were about 10 years old.  We didn’t have enough brushes and rollers and scrapers and wire brushes, so they were almost fighting for each tool.  I gave them as many tasks as I could come up with and they worked so fast that I was amazed.  Before they left, Sister Coleman and I taught them the song “Baby Shark.”

Elders West & Tucker
Frère Martin mixing the color by hand, literally!

Elders Mwehu and Tucker cleaning the walls

Elder Sperry sanding a door

Elders Muamba, Mbuyi, and VanAusdal

If the only brush available is on a stick, this is how you paint.

Look Mom, I'm turning white!

The group of workers at this moment

"May I have some paint thinner?"

Kids always love Sister Coleman.

Missionary and Future Missionary photo

During the painting I checked the toilets and found a broken flexible pipe spraying water.  As I was buying a new one in a nearby store, a man named Felix saw my name tag and hailed me because he is Christian, too.  I showed him our project at the school and gave him a brochure.  He sought us out at the school again the second day, having studied the brochure and having filled in the questions at the back, wishing for a copy of the Book of Mormon.  I called the Elders to set an appointment and gave him a BoM.  Missionary work here is so easy.
Instructions Above

The mission president and his wife came for a zone conference.  Sister Coleman made a crock pot stew and we asked our helpers to make African food for lunch.  They made fufu and eru, which took all morning.  The clean-up then took them all afternoon.  I found that fufu really is filling.  I wasn’t hungry at all until the next morning.
Zone Conference

Elders Kabasele, Mbuyi, Mwehu, & Muamba clustered around Sis. Monga

Purita and Fleur help prepare lunch

Eru, Fufu, and Beef stew

The mission president also trained branch leaders, mostly on Sabbath observance.  That was really important.  I think when I taught it they didn’t accept it because white people just don’t understand life here.  But now they heard it from an African and will probably make some changes.

Wednesday was National Day, the biggest holiday of the year in Cameroon with a parade and fireworks.  It celebrates the uniting of the English and French Cameroons in one country and is a great source of national pride.

It is true that I will never understand life here.  When we first came here I wanted to live, eat, talk, shop, and think like an African.  But I can’t really imagine what it would be like to live my whole life without knowing where tomorrow’s meal will come from and continually giving away all of my money to help extended family.  And I’m sure that I will never believe that a fetish came to life and took the form of a large boa constrictor to threaten a family.  A very intelligent, highly respected, well-traveled church leader told me that that really happened.  I was astounded that he would believe such a thing.  Sorcery is just a fact of life here, more common than indoor plumbing.  Sorcerers wander the streets.  People dig up corpses to remove the head and put it somewhere else so the spirit won’t bother them.  Charms and amulets are used.  Bad luck is blamed on envious people casting spells.  It is all so far removed from my experience that I have given up trying to think like an African.  But maybe, just maybe, it is all real, and I am just protected from such evil by the priesthood and my calling.
Douala Branch President Mbengue & wife

I had to stop for this truck driving the wrong way.  It's anarchy!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

5/17 - New Investigator, Open House, Long Run, Restaurant

About 10 days ago I was walking down the street and a man asked me to buy him a cookie.  I stopped and explained to him that as a missionary I couldn’t, but what we share is much more important than money.  That started a discussion and we swapped phone numbers.  He found his way to the church, met the missionaries there, and started the lessons. Today he came to church services and I was so excited to see him.  I found out that he is an electrical technician and not a beggar as I originally thought.

The Douala Branch had an open house yesterday and let me be in charge, so I kept it to a simple tour, film, and refreshments.  From the time we opened our gates at 10 until the end at 1 there were people coming in.  Our missionaries, full-time and branch, kept finding people passing by and bringing them in.  The sign-in sheet had 36 visitor names and several came to church today.
Maryanne inviting a passerby to the open house

Therese at the sign-in table

Jean Marie Su explaining Sunday School to visitors

On my Monday run I encountered a different group of 24 guards, so I ran with them.  One said that they were going to Ndokoti, so I planned for a long run.  They didn’t tell me that they were taking the long way to get there and a longer way back.  It turned out to be over 20 km, which is almost a half-marathon, with nothing to drink.  They took over three hours, singing African cadences the whole way.  They always love having a white guy in the group.   And I love the protection from vehicles that a group provides.

We checked out the school again and found it much improved, although there were problems with 4 of the toilets.  I did some diagnostics and fixed them.  I think that I have more experience fixing toilets than any plumber in town.  They were not properly installed.   
Kindergarten kids love Sister Coleman.

Faucets in the school yard now work.
We added this pump & tank to get water to the toilets.
While we were working some kids used the other toilets but one girl chose instead to use the weeds.  Even the teachers often use the squatters out of convenience instead of taking the time to get the key to the sit-down toilets.  We’re planning a bit more training. 
I found a good sign to put up in the adult restroom at the school.  I just don’t want someone to break the toilet and get injured by shards of porcelain.

Our new supermarket, Super U, is even better than we thought.  It had a crock pot.  We have hunted all over town for one with no luck.  It also had amplified computer speakers for under $20.  The ones we have been using are starting to fail and everything I found elsewhere is very expensive.  A lot of the staff from another supermarket is now working there.  We asked the butcher about it and he said they have a common owner, so he works at both on different days.
The center aisle of Super U

I flipped through some children’s books in the book department of Super U and found a picture book full drawings of naked kids and topless women working in their tribal community.  Maybe that is common in some distant villages but we’ve never seen it.  People here tend to be very well-dressed.

An Elder got sick and had to take a couple of days off.  That is hard to do because they have so many investigators and really want to teach them.  Our Elders are very dedicated.

On Friday we took our employees, Davy, Fleur, and Purita, to a restaurant to celebrate Labor Day, since we were unable to do it on the real Labor Day 2 weeks ago.  We went to the restaurant Elsa-Services, owned by a branch member, Sister Ndedi.  When we arrived she already had 4 other customers so she asked our girls to take our orders.  Then she asked Fleur to cook the miondo and Purita to wash some dishes.  What is the point of going out to eat?  Anyway, I tried the mbongo with fish and macabo.  Mbongo is a tasty black sauce for the fish and macabo is like potato.  It was good but the fish had too many bones so I gave up halfway through.  I wanted to try the red macabo on the menu (written on the wall) but all they had was white.  Sister Coleman had chicken and rice.  Five meals and four sodas came to 9,500 Fcfa (about $19).
Eating Out with Davy, Fleur Ida, & Purita

But first Fleur had to fan the flames to cook the macabo

Purita was asked to wash some dishes

The "Menu du Jour" on the wall

Mbongo and fish
Also on Friday the branch leaders had financial training by Blaise Ngangou, the area auditor.  He explained budgeting, welfare, and stewardship and told lots of stories about bishops stealing money and thinking they wouldn't get caught.  It was well done.

We invited Noah to dinner today to celebrate his birthday.  He was amazed that we remembered.  Planners are rare here.  The Dimonds visited again, this time to sustain and set apart the branch executive secretary.
Some kind of demonstration.  We pulled over to let them pass.