Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Palm Sunday

Even though many are still contemplating the Lenten season, we'd like to give you an early opportunity to mark Palm Sunday, and rejoice in the celebrations of our home congregation here in Cameroon.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Up North At Last!

After nearly ten years of living in Cameroon I finally got to go to the Far North Region. It was also a first time experience for Salome and Naomi, but Christi accompanies her partners here at least once a year. Twice before I had wanted to make this trip, but each time there were more travelers than seats available.
Ready to embark on the journey with a small plane of the mission aviation service affiliated with Wycliffe Bible Translators.
Our visit coincided with the middle of the long dry season. Rain is not expected for at least another month. The wide rivers are dry and sandy, yet one finds people digging in the riverbed to reach the water hidden below. Many trees are dry and leafless and the dominant color is a sandy brown, except for the few villages where the roots of lush green mango trees tap into a higher water table.
Salome and Naomi eating freshly toasted sesame seeds while taking refuge from the 100°F in the shade of a tree.
This was a work trip for Christi and me, but we took our daughters with the thought it could also give them rich, new experiences. Salome remembers: the wonderfully tasty meat and sauce we were served in a small hut at the first village we visited; the brief sight of a very quick yellow snake that zipped underneath Naomi as they sat outside; and the village where we had to go through two translators- one to go from a “very local” language to another more broadly used “local” language and then another to translate into French for our family.
The community gathering place of Médjéréo, a large tree on a flat spot. A refreshing treat of hot, sweet homemade soy milk was served to us.
Grain bank members of Gouzlom at their meeting place.
Villagers of Mambaria share about the impact of the granary. Often men and women sit separately.
Naomi also recalls the wonderful meals we had in the villages, in contrast to the less appetizing eggs she had for breakfast at the hotel. She remembers the smell of dust filling the car as we drove down the road, the beauty of the seemingly dead trees in this dry season and the loud rumbling sound of the small plane.
I am left with many impressions from this trip: faces etched with character;
Young mother listening to the discussions in Kelmey village
Village elder with community worker Pierre Konaï to his left.
Home on the side of a hill constructed with various materials (rocks and mud bricks) and styles (round and rectangular).
Millet stalks remain on rocky mountain side after harvest. Farmers carefully sow grains in the few spots of dirt between rocks and boulders.

the diverse building styles of homes - rectangular or round, mud or cement blocks, or even well-fitted rock without mortar; and the severe living conditions in some the villages, where stalks of millet are planted between rocks and boulders on the sides of mountains.
I also am left with impressions of the pride, hope and determination evident in people we met.
There is pride in the way collaboration within their villages has produced successfully run community grain banks.
Grain stocks in Gouzlom village. Bags are reused each year, save precious community funds.
In addition to commonly held stocks of a union of 14 women groups, this well constructed granary in Kelmey is used to store personal supplies at a modest fee of about 50¢/bag/year.
Left: Records of stocks loaned and sold to the community members. A bag was sold at 15,000 F, while the market price at that moment (lean season) was 25000 F. New bags of grain were bought at harvest time for 10,000F. This has benefited the members, while allowing the community stocks to be replenished and enlarged.
There is hope that this common effort will continue to yield healthier and better fed families,
A fun moment while cleaning millet grains.
Four students from Gouzlom village who are now going to school, but could not do so prior to the creation of the community grain bank.
that it will help more children attend school, and enable fathers to stay in their village and work their own fields rather than to have to sell their labor cheaply in the fields of others far away. 

I’ve seen the determination of parents who have taken a loan from RELUFA’s CAP Scholar program to send their daughters to school. Loans are taken at the beginning of the school year (September) and then repaid when their cash crop (cotton, peanuts or soybeans) are harvested and sold. That specific loan program is part way through the second cycle, but repayment at the end of the first year was 100%.

Christelle is able to attend high school because her parents have taken a short-term loan from RELUFA’s CAP for Scholars.
Mazlaguidey women’s group gathered in front of their nearly finished restaurant. The women received for this project a CAP loan from RELUFA to serve meals to visitors of next door's Baptist hospital.
It is encouraging to see relatively small one-time investments by our church help communities start a community grain bank that year after year renders very tangible benefits. I am thankful for the dedicated Cameroonian community workers of RELUFA member organizations who through their regular visits do much to assure the success of granaries during their first few years.
Please go to : to learn more about the grain banks and to for the micro loan program Credit Against Poverty (CAP).

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Matthias' visit to Cameroon

My flight from Amsterdam to Zurich had a late start and I already only had 55 minutes to change planes. When we arrived in Zurich 30 minutes left for me to find my way through an airport I’d never been through and catch my plane. Fortunately, I got there as the plane was still boarding. We were off to another late start, because somebody had lost their passport. But after long flight I finally arrived into Cameroon and was quickly through formalities and out with my luggage.

Naomi's birtday surprise

I got home and gave Naomi the surprise of her life because she had no clue that I was coming on her birthday, July the 4th. Over the following weeks I went out with friends to the club, to Espresso (a sort of café) and hung out at the Saudi Ambassador’s house with his son, my best friend.

Buea and Limbe

My family and I went to Buea and stayed at a colleague’s house, from where we visited Limbe to go to the beach.

At the creek in Limbe

It annoyed me that for the first time I went to Buea and didn’t climb Mt. Cameroon. I miss climbing it. The beach was pretty good, though, but cold; especially the creek at Seme New Beach.

"Red eye effect" Salome

At the road side in Douala on our way back from Buea, getting my favorite Cameroonian snack: Soya, sliced, freshly roasted beef


A week later we traveled to Kribi and had a good time there.

Playing games in the bukarou

As usual, we went to Grand Batanga where the fishermen prepared us some really good grilled yellow fin tuna and great shrimp.

The best seafood ever

After coming back to Yaoundé, we spent a couple days really working on the house: fixing the shower, hanging up the basketball hoop, which involved moving lights, and doing electrical stuff. We worked on the water heater, painted Salome’s room and set up her closet.

Far North Province

I then had the opportunity to join my mom’s Cameroonian colleague, Valéry, and fly up to Maroua in the Extreme North province to visit some of the villages they have village grain banks in. I’d been there with my mom more than two years ago, when the project got started.

Dark clouds announcing the next rain storm

But this time it was rainy season, and not the long dry period as it was the case with my first trip up North.

On this trip we visited I believe it was over 10 villages in 3 days, doing a lot of off-roading in pickups only one of which had 4 wheel drive.

Trying to not get lost

We got stuck once in the pickup with 4 wheel drive after we had left the other car across the river since we didn’t want to take the risk with that one. It took some 25- 30 villagers helping us to get the pick up out.

Preparing the terrain to cross the water

They were lifting all sides of the car in turn to try and get enough traction on other wheels for the car to move forward. After 30-45 minutes of struggling and fighting with the car, it was freed and we were on our way again.

Discussing with the villagers the running of their grainbank

The purpose of the visit was on one side to see the progress of the grain bank program, but on the other side to sort out problems in a few of the villages related to one of the guidance counselors.

A few villages fell victim to bad leadership

The second village we visited the first day had the greatest problems. This was mostly because the guidance counselor had not done his job of visiting them regularly and helping them keep records of their stocks. This had resulted in people like himself misusing their power and taking from the stocks.This village had not been the only one that had suffered from his poor job.

Houses overgrown by the new crops

But there were also communities we visited that had refused to give this man anything and had continued to run their grain bank properly by themselves. We were all very proud of these villagers. At times it was difficult to hear the discussions because it was raining cats and dogs on the aluminum roofs. We tried to go to a fourth village but decided to head home instead before it would become impossible to cross the river and hard flowing streams. The next day we had a similar situation elsewhere, but fortunately they are exceptions rather than the rule!

One of the most successful villages: a women-run grain bank

We then went to several villages with a different guidance counselor and all of those villages were thriving! The only complaints were that they didn’t have a good and big enough granary.

So for those villages, the next help they need is a good storage facility. The villagers there were all very happy with the program, they could already see a noticeable difference in their life only 2 years into the program! The next day we went to 2 more villages and we heard once again more compliments and happiness.

Scary Moments

The day before our scheduled flight back was a Sunday and we went to a nearby small town called Mokolo to visit the dam that supplied the town with water. While we were walking along the dam walls (which were made of pure stone, no concrete) an elderly security guard walked up to greet us. As we greeted him, I noticed that he was stepping on the tail of a snake that was struggling to get free. Thinking that the security guard was aware of it, I pointed it out to the people I was traveling with to which they were all startled, and the guard jumped back. The freed snake slithered to escape and slithered straight between the legs of the Member of Parliament I was traveling with. It was passing right by my feet and my first instinct was a calculated stomp to the head. But off by an inch or two, I stomped the spine of the snake instead, to which it immediately struck and bit my foot. Luckily I was wearing big basketball shoes because the snake bit the shoe. I picked up my shoe as the others were shouting in surprise of what I was doing. The snake escaped but it sure is something I’ll remember.

Frustrating bureaucracy

The next day we were about to leave for the airport but I couldn’t find my ticket. We called the agency and they said it was no problem, I would be on the plane. We were among the first at the airport and wanted to check in, but the person behind the desk told us to wait because it was too early. So we waited and waited, until we saw some other people had been helped. We went over again but they still told us to wait. In the end and after lots of frustration, stress and shouting, that could be heard over the jet engines, we still weren’t on the plane when it left. They had overbooked the plane and gave priority to people who had tickets for flights only two days later, or even a week, claiming that we hadn’t confirmed the return ticket. These people were being helped and some of them got on the plane while we had neither!

After leaving the airport, we went to a local agent that verifies claims and writes up reports as evidence for lawsuits. He confirmed everything, that we had been at the airport, that the plane came and left and we were still there. Valéry says he will sue the company; not for the money (that would just be a bonus) but for a precedent, because the airline company thinks that people like us won’t give problems. They are in for a very rude awakening.

The saga continues

We had to stay in Maroua an extra 2 days, so until Wednesday. On Tuesday we both went to the market in down town Maroua. There I bought a snakeskin belt and iguana skin phone case, but they demanded outrageous prices for some women’s wallets that I wanted to get for my sisters and mom. I later found a small purse that I liked a lot more than the wallets, also made out of snake skin. But I was disappointed to find out that there was only one left and because I knew that if I gave it to one of my sisters, the other would want to use it and there would be plenty of arguing, I decided not to get it.

So on Wednesday we went back again to the airport, and wanted to check in. The very same guy was at the desk and allowed Valéry to check in, but not me because I didn’t have a ticket. Once again it became a huge hassle with lots of calls and some shouting; naturally we became stressed. It was only when Valerie asked for his luggage back that the guy went to the desk and got me my boarding pass. He had had it all ready the whole time, but was just teasing and toying with us!

Once they started boarding, we pushed and forced our way to be among the first on the plane to make sure that we got on it, and sure enough, the plane had been overbooked like it had been on Monday!

My next journey: Tuscon, Arizona

My time in Cameroon got cut a bit short when an opportunity opened up for me in the PCUSA’s Young Adult Volunteer Program in Tuscon, AZ. It turned out very difficult to find a flight out of Cameroon that would bring me in time to start the program with the other volunteers, but thankfully my parents succeeded. So the next year I will spend working in the US with Mexican immigrants and low income families, and I am very excited about that!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Naomi's painting job

Here in Cameroon I decided to paint my room. I first chose the colors that I wanted. Then during spring break we took the time to do it and got a bucket of white paint and coloring. I invited one of my best friends (Nicole) over to help me paint.

At first we had to scrape the ceiling and the parts of the walls that were pealing. That is a lot harder then it sounds. It took us about one-and-a-half days. Then we had to put a layer of white paint over the ceiling and all the walls.

Finally it came to the fun part of it all. We took white and then added slowly blue coloring. Then, while mixing colors, the top of the concentrated blue bottle suddenly popped off! We had too much blue, and had to scoop some out but still a lot was left in there. We decided to not mix it up a lot so there were different shades everywhere.

I had decided to do sponge painting instead of normal brush painting. We set out with rectangular sponges. We had different shades of blue on each sponge. We finished one wall and left a little square so we could sign there.

Then we moved over to the wall next to it. We washed everything off and took some new sponges. We cut them into circles, two big and one small. We added green and yellow to the white paint to make different shades of lime green with yellow and green randomly mixed in.

After that wall was done we went to the last one. We tried mixing blue and red into the white paint to get  purple but whatever we did the purple always turned a grey color! So we made that wall just one really light yellow and we were going to put a couple of orange dots around places to make it stick out more. But when we were mixing up the orange the red cap fell off and we ended up with a red paint. This did not help.

I was getting very frustrated from the whole days of hard work. So we put the paint away for that night and would continue tomorrow with a clear head.

The next day I had another friend over (Juliette) and we looked at the wall and my mom came with the idea of bringing back the green and blue a tiny bit. So we put a little bit of blue and green.

Finally we were done with the walls. Now we had to do the closets, windows, door, etc. This we wanted to do purple but had no way of getting purple. Then the next day my mom asked our house help, Marie, to go out and buy some cloth die powder to see if it would be able to mix in and make a good purple. IT DID! We finally had our purple. Now I just have to paint them and be done. I am planning on doing it this weekend.

This was full of fun and frustration but now I am happy!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


When Presbyterians visitors arrive at the airport in Kinshasa most are met by Mike’s smiling face. Today, we know him as Mukila, but not infrequently I still hear people calling him by his “radio” name. It’s a nostalgic reference from the days when CB’s (Citizen Band radio’s) were a common means of communication among the missionary community in the country. Cell phones have put an end to most two-way radios, yet the name Mike lingers for some.

While waiting for my luggage next to the carousel, Mukila and I chat. We ask about each other's families. My son is in college in the Netherlands, he has four kids at different universities in Kinshasa. He speaks of the difficulties of life, particularly the challenge of paying the fees associated with four university students.

A father of more than eight children, Mukila shares how he has come to understand the words of caution missionaries gave about having many children. But at the time his village experience was front and center in his mind: families in rural areas wanted, needed, many children to help grow food for the family and do chores around the house. Besides, the cost of living is low in the village. Years later, with a job in the nation’s capital, he realizes that urban life has made it more difficult to care for such a large family. In the city, he explains, the expenses are many. School fees are higher, transportation costs are a daily burden on the family and food generally needs to be bought, as there is little opportunity to grow it in the city.

The struggle Mukila faces to care for his family and to give them opportunities for the future are felt by the vast majority of those living in Kinshasa or other cities in Congo. For many, the idea of children getting an education, let alone a university education, remains a dream.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Tumultuous Times

Jeff just left for Douala, barely four days after his return from a two-week trip to the Congo. Those familiar with our usual agenda’s would think nothing particular of this. But with the tumultuous times Cameroon is going through this week, it is definitely different today.

Initially scheduled to arrive from Kinshasa into Douala last Monday, Jeff’s flight was cancelled because of a volatile unrest that had been building up there over the course of the weekend, resulting in several fatalities. With the riots having in the meantime spilled over to other regions in Western Cameroon, it wasn’t sure whether Jeff could even fly into Yaounde the next day as our home town had also grown restless.

Thankfully, he got in the eve before it all broke out here on Wednesday. Taxi’s stayed off the roads for a third day in a row, and by now the protest had gone beyond the objection by the transportation unions to hiking gas prices, to include the peoples general exasperation with ever rising costs of living and the intended constitutional changes to eliminate term limits for the President. School closed early that day and our girls arrived home at a time we were hearing gun shots just down the road.

After a day of violent protests and riots, with statements from various religious leaders calling for calm, and a televised address by the Head of State later that night, the city woke up to an uneasy quiet on Thursday, as the army patrolled the streets and taxi’s remained on the curbs for another day of strikes. Some said the President spoke appropriately as a Father of the Nation, but many were dissatisfied with the lack of recognition for the difficulties faced by the population and upset with the harsh words spoken about the youth.

While unrest continued in the West Provinces, Douala and Yaounde became under control, and on Friday usual activities started picking up, allegedly under threat for the confiscation of cars and goods if taxi men did not start driving and if shopkeepers held their stores closed. The people are obviously relieved with the break in direct threat and the opportunity to purchase a few necessities, but given the suppressed frustrations it is not sure how long this relative calm will last. Allegedly, demonstrations that had originally been planned for this weekend have been postponed for the next week.

So, after checking in with our various sources, we decided that this weekend may be the best window of opportunity to get the church’s car from Douala, where it had stayed after our family’s outing to Limbe, with Jeff flying on to Kinshasa and the girls and me returning by bus to Yaoundé. We trust God will provide for Jeff’s safe return tomorrow. But under the current circumstances, his plans to visit next week with our church partners in Equatorial Guinea may well need to be postponed.

Please, lift up the Cameroonian people in your thoughts and prayers so they may continue to live peacefully, but with founded hope for a better future.

To read the special statement on the crisis in Cameroon from the Rt. Rev. Dr. Nyansako-ni-NKU, Moderator of PCC,
click here >>>

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The drive in from the airport

Although I've been to Kinshasa many times over the past decade I continue to be struck by the sheer number of people on the road after dark. That there seemed to be even more people on the road this time was attributed to the rain that evening. Many drivers preferred to avoid the heightened risk for accident in such weather. One can well understand that as you see cars with broken or missing windshields, vans without front or tail lights, deep potholes hidden by a mirror of water and few functioning street lights. In the somewhat better condition of roads in Yaounde I dislike driving at night. I detest driving on rainy nights.

With fewer vans on the road more people rely on their feet to carry them home. With little exception they were all heading away from the city center. The average walk was probably 7 to 8 miles. Many don't walk it though, they run. At first I thought the groups of 40-50 young men jogging by chanting marching songs were from a sports team. I've seen teams out running before, some dancing and shadow boxing like Rocky. But not tonight. These men were dress in street cloths, not training cloths. These were young men who work downtown, many of them work in the large market. They run not for exercise, but to cut their commute time. They join together for mutual encouragement for the long way home. Banded together, they become a force to be reckoned with on the streets. Whereas drivers here often act indifferently to individuals walking or running on the street, they drive with caution when approaching 40 young men chanting in unison. We came too close to one group spread over the road and they pounded on the van to serve as a reminder that we should give them their space.