Friday, September 30, 2011

Changes

On all of our previous trips to Cameroon, we marveled at how little had changed since our previous visit. This time, we are constantly caught off guard by what is different. So many buildings have been torn down and new ones put up that we tend to get disoriented and confused when driving through town. Women's dress has also changed. We see many women of all ages and socioeconomic levels wearing pants in public. (I would still feel guilty doing so, although I suspect that that will change over the next few months.) I have even seen several women wearing sleeveless dresses in church, a change I will welcome if it turns out to apply across the board. (Seeing something here or there, doesn't mean that it's okay for middle-aged, Christian women.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Last weekend Paul and I went shopping for tennis shorts for him. Both the French Embassy and the American school have recreational clubs, and occasionally he will have time to play. Went into the shop that we thought was most likely to have something, and they did – for about $60.00. He asked the employee if he could tell us of anywhere else we could look. The man shrugged and said, "Is that any of my business? I sell what is here. Why would I care what anyone else does?" We realized that it was a dumb question, notions of customer care being rather different here from what we are used to in the States.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

This morning I had Linda, our househelp, help me make soup. We cooked the various vegetables that I had on hand (onion, celery, cauliflower, zucchini, carrots), then put them all in the food processor. When it was done, she asked me what we eat it with (Rice? Plantains? Manioc?) I told her that we eat it "like that" –without anything else, except maybe some bread and cheese, eaten separately from the soup. She was taken aback at first, the after thinking about it she observed, "If you ate it with a fork, you wouldn't get much."

My Internet situation hasn't improved, but my adaptation to it has. I have various options that I can turn to, depending on what I need. At home, we have a USB stick that can sometimes get us a connection through cell technology. This is random (It works about half of the time), slow, and, given how slow it is, expensive. (We pay in 15 min. increments.) About two blocks away, I can access our mission's system, if I ask some colleague or other if I can intrude. (It is not where our offices are. Rather, it is the vicinity of a housing complex where many of our missionaries live and the offices of CABTAL, our Cameroonian partner organization.) Two blocks may not seem far until you consider that this is rainy season and the road is neither paved nor graded, so walking there with a computer is dicey. The connection is reasonably reliable and moderately fast, but I am limited during office hours to downloads of 20mb: not nearly enough for the audio recordings of my lectures, ebooks or Skype. (I can Skype after hours, but big downloads need to be cleared with our IT dept in advance.) So in order to get my lectures and books, I need to find a kind colleague who will let me come into their house and use the connection for which they pay each month, separate from our mission's system. I can also ask our mission's IT dept to schedule an evening download for me, which I have now done for those of my lectures that were pre-recorded and posted before the start of the course. The fast, relatively reliable connection that we were thinking of getting is becoming less and less of an option, so I'm working at getting along with what we've got.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I didn't plan to write about this here, because this blog is about Cameroon, and it happened on the trip back from Ecuador earlier this month. But my friend Char pleaded with me to do so. (She loves it when I humiliate myself.) So just to remind her that I am not proud:
On the day I left Quito, I woke up at 3 am with a splitting headache and couldn't get back to sleep, so by the time I reached Miami, I was very tired. (That's the excuse. I'm a little proud.) This was just prior to the tenth anniversary of 9/11 so security was tight, and the lines were the longest and slowest I've ever seen. It took me over an hour to get through customs to where you recheck your bag. When I saw the baggage check guy, I stopped cold and exclaimed, "I forgot to get my suitcase!" He was surprised, but he found an airline employee to go back through security with me. We elbowed our way through the crowd, and when we got to the baggage carrousel I said, "Oh, no! I just remembered that I didn't check a bag! I came with just my carry-on." She gave me a long look, gestured toward customs and said, "You'll have to tell it to them." So we stood in line – wouldn't you know that she would pick the same one I had been in before? When I finally got up to the agent, he screwed his face up and said, "Didn't you come through here already?" I told him my story, and he looked at me for a long time, without smiling. Finally he said, "Follow the red line." (That's where the people go whom they believe to be lying or smuggling or whatever it is that they think.) Another line, another unsmiling agent (Who trains these people?) who scrutinized me, then waved me through. Finally I was back to the airline employee (where the whole thing began. When he saw me coming, he called out, "Where's your suitcase?"
Me: I don't have one.
Him: Oh, no – they lost it?
Me: No, I mean I never had one. I didn't check a bag on this trip.
Him: What? You mean…
And then he laughed, which was what I had hoped all of those other people would do.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Here is the kind of situation that we face regularly and that continues to tie us in knots: I was sitting peacefully at home this afternoon, taking a break from studying by knitting a few rows (on something that is a surprise for a friend who may or may not read this blog) when the doorbell rang. I went out to the gate, called out, "Qui est-ce?" and got back the answer that it was my neighbor, Marc, whom I don't know. But he sounded nice, so I opened up. He greeted me, then told me that he is desperate for help, because his newborn has a serious infection and is in the hospital. He made it sound like life and death (which of course it may have been – how would I know?) He needed 6500 CFA, or about $15.00, for medicine. I asked to see the prescription: he said he hadn't brought it with him. I asked him for the name of the medicine and he told me. I asked him to describe the problem, which he did – in great detail. All of the time I was thinking about what I should do. We don't usually give people money in such cases, unless we know them well, know the need to be real or have some way of verifying it. I had only about 45 minutes before I needed to be at CTC (the mission's training center) in order to do some important business online. So I went through my protocol by telling him that of course I would have to phone Monsieur Paul. This is to be expected, and it gives me both time to think and a second opinion. Paul agreed that I shouldn't give him money but really couldn’t offer much help otherwise – like I said, we still get tied in knots. Finally I told Marc that I was leaving soon for the training center and would meet him at a certain point along the way so that I could go with him to the clinic where the meds had been prescribed. When it came time to leave, it was just starting to rain, so I went back in and put my laptop inside of a plastic bag, inside my backpack. As I picked my way through the muddy street, getting wetter and wetter by the minute (I was trying to keep my umbrella over my backpack rather than over me), I kept wondering whether or not he would show up. If it was a scam, the rain might keep him away. Even if it wasn't, he might assume that I wouldn't come in the rain. I also prayed for the baby – if there is one – and for my computer, and for wisdom and patience and that I wouldn't get too grouchy because, after all, "The Lord loves a cheerful giver." A couple of times I thought about turning back, but then I thought that it might be true, and a baby might be very sick, and I could easily manage $15.00 and a soaking in order to save a baby's life. What if this incident was the real purpose that God had in bringing us back to Cameroon? To shorten the story: I met up with him; we went to the clinic; they verified his story; and I gave him the money. I told him to bring me the receipt and the box the meds come in tomorrow morning, and he assured me that he will. But it means nothing. If it is a scam, he can just split the money with the guy at the pharmacy, who will give him a receipt and a box. Or he can buy the meds and sell them later: people often sell single pills on the street. In that case, I will have encouraged him to continue a life of dishonesty. On the other hand, he may be a perfectly honest, desperate father, and I may have been in a position to help him save a baby that will grow up to cure cancer or be the next Billy Graham. Most likely I will never know the end of this story.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

When I arrived, I was a little disappointed not to get the royal welcome to which I'd become happily accustomed. Rather, all was relatively quiet and boring in the baggage area. Although there were porters, they weren't clamoring and fighting to handle my bags. Apparently the airport has cracked down and told those who are allowed to handle baggage that they need to allow the customer to come to them, and for the most part they are complying. Shortly after Paul and I found each other, we did hear someone call, "Tango Mike!" and turned to saw a traffic controller bustling forward to greet us. (For those readers who don't spend much time around aircraft, the "name" of the airplane is the combination of numbers and letters painted on it, pronounced in the international aviation alphabet. The airplane here is N123TM, so when Paul is flying the controllers call him "November One Two Three Tango Mike", or "Tango Mike" for short.) After we collected my suitcases and left the baggage area, I got my welcoming committee. Half a dozen or so young men were standing around, hoping to find passengers who wanted help loading their cars. They all greeted us excitedly, so I got to hear the "Madame Paul!" that tells me I am truly back. As we walked to the car, several of them tagged along, chatting and asking about our family. When we got to the car, they insisted good naturedly that they had been guarding it and that we owed them money. We reminded them that Paul hadn't asked anyone to guard the car, so they asked if we had a little money for him to get some coffee. Paul told him truthfully that he had no change, and the man said, "Okay, next time." Next time he will remind Paul that he "promised" to give him money.

Still no reliable Internet at home. We have a stick that allows us to get a cell connection, but when I tried to pull up my email this morning, it timed out before I got any messages. We drove into town on Thursday and talked to what is supposed to be the best provider company. For about $300, we can have wireless for the next three months . I am feeling so desperate to get going on my courses that we are considering it, although we didn't budget that much for it.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Still no reliable Internet; still working on it. Sigh. Frankly, the blog is the least of my worries, but I do intend to get it going when I can.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Blogging again - sort of - from Cameroon

No pictures yet. My plan is to use my cell phone for taking them, so first I need to get my phone unlocked so that it can use a local SIM card. In order to unlock it, I first need to have the SIM card. But the woman who sells the SIM cards is on vacation until Monday. The man who explained all of this to me smiled apologetically and said, "It's too bad that you arrived this very week." It all felt very familiar and made me feel more at home than anything else since I arrived.

Neither do we have regular Internet access. I can get decent access about a half a mile away, at the mission's training center, but this is rainy season, so carrying my computer there and back is a little dicey. (When Paul told me that the brakes on the vehicle that has been loaned to us are unreliable, I decided that I'll stay on foot for awhile.) We are working on various possibilities for that: everyone seems to have a solution to offer, none of which have panned out for us. In the meantime, I won't be posting much. But also in the meantime, I'm thinking that it's about time to give this puppy a name. Any ideas?