August 15 9:40 pm
We’ve been taking pictures and video of everything that we’ve been doing here, so there will be a lot of visuals to share, but for now most of the visuals are on devices I don’t have access to (or for those who prefer not to end sentences with prepositions: to which I don’t have access). And I am very busy, so for now, my words will have to do. In addition, I know that the pictures will still be available later, but the clarity of the experiences will not.
I wrote about what we did this afternoon during the first day of our teacher training, but let me back up now and talk about what else has happened and what else we have done since I’ve been here.
After landing in Douala yesterday at 5 am. I was able to get through the passport, customs, and baggage pick-up areas without difficulty, and Jacqueline and Olivier were waiting for me right outside the door, one of them taking a video and the other taking still photos. (If you haven’t yet begun following Aumazo on Facebook, you should do so—you’ll see updates about what we’re doing and Jacqueline is posting photos… Yesterday, for example, Jacqueline posted one of the photos we took outside the airport.) We drove to the hotel (where they’d spent the night in preparation for my arrival) so that I could get a shower and change—brushing my teeth was particularly welcome. Then we got back into the car and started driving to Bafang. The drive was bumpy and intense. I was very glad to be in a big car—they’ve recently purchased a 2001 Jeep Cherokee—and the roads here make it worth having a true SUV.
Even though I was exhausted, I actually felt pretty good. It’s not nearly as tiring to travel by myself than with a group of students, for example, and everything had gone smoothly. And, amazingly, I was actually able to sleep a good bit during the ride.
There was a point on our drive here at which I realized that I was choosing to sleep not only because I was tired, but because I just couldn’t take in all of the intensity—the dirt, the cars, the intermittently very rough road (if a road is under construction, people just go around the sign and drive on it anyway), the motorbikes weaving in and out and around the cars, the people crowding around the car whenever we came to a little “market” area (these happen at intervals along the road that appeared random to me… all of a sudden you’re just in a little area in/along the road where people are selling nuts or fruits or packaged bread or grilled meat, etc.). We stopped at quite a few of these, although not all of them, and Jacqueline bought provisions for our stay here. She likes to contribute food to the mission to help feed us and the seminarians who are staying here.
We finally arrived in Bafang, and although my room wasn’t ready yet, we were able to settle in a bit and get some internet access, and talk with each other and with the priests and seminarians here a bit. It was good to be somewhere. By the evening, the experience of driving here was already fading and I was feeling much more at home. Jacqueline asked me what I was noticing in my reactions as we drove—this was after I’d had a chance to wake up after sleeping quite a long time—and she asked if it was overwhelming…and I said yes. It’s just so different. She said that the first time she came back to Cameroon, she felt completely overwhelmed —and trapped by so many people encroaching on her space as when we arrived in the different market spots (which, again, feel quite random… you’re just driving along and suddenly a bunch of people come up to your car holding things up to buy), but that now she’s able to go back and forth between Cameroon and the US and not feel that overwhelm.
We had lunch around the table with le père Sylvestre, the Rector here—or possibly his title is Dean, since it’s actually a cathedral here. He is just great—just a few years older than me, very dynamic, very funny. We had pangolin as our meat. Jacqueline had shown me a video earlier in the day of a pangolin running around. I think it was the actual pangolin that we ate. The food here is absolutely delicious—incredible, spicy sauces, beautiful fresh fruits, and very fresh meat. The flavors are fantastic.
After lunch I had access to my room, and I unpacked. The electricity had gone out earlier, so we’d already lost the internet down at the main part of the mission (where we eat, and where I was able to send you a few messages), and now I didn’t have electricity in the room, but it’s not like I really needed it for anything. We also don’t currently have running water (!). I’ve got a bucket full of water to use when I need to flush the toilet. And, of course, I’m not supposed to brush my teeth in running water anyway, so I have bottled water for that. Jacqueline has given me purification tablets to put into the bucket of water so that I can use it to wash with and not run any risks.
After unpacking, I took a nap. I was really exhausted and feel immediately to sleep. I woke up at some point and thought I was getting up, but I then went back to sleep again. I finally woke up at around 5:30 or 6 and got dressed, brushed my hair, had a prayer time and did some journaling, and generally tried to put myself back together. Jacqueline showed up after having been at the 5:30 mass and having hung around the lower area to write some emails, and we decided to go have some food. After a long conversation around the table, we went to bed.
This morning, I slept late, but once I was up, life was immediately interesting and engaging. I had breakfast with the seminarians, who had been up since 4 or 5 am and had just finished the big mass for the Assumption of Mary. Then Jacqueline and Olivier joined me to do some planning for the day, and soon after it was time for lunch—I had just eaten breakfast, but the lunch was so delicious that I couldn’t resist joining in. It was another opportunity to talk with and listen to le pere Sylvestre, and I was blessed with stories of the beginning of Aumazo. It turns out that he is the one who was Jacqueline’s partner here in Cameroon at the beginning, when she first founded the organization in 2005. The stories they told were of hardship and frustration and resistance by everyone around them as they tried to get this project moving. The stories are also of deep commitment, love, and clarity of call. The presence of God has been palpable throughout this project; I know that I have felt a deep sense of call myself as I have been involved. I will ask them if I can write down some of the stories and share them here. I’m not going to give any details here now because I am not sure I will get the details right, and they deserve to be told as they actually happened. What I can say is that both he and Jacqueline are incredibly brave and loving people, and that I am deeply honored and privileged to be joining them on this path. I’m also grateful that those particular hardships are behind us, and that we are now moving into the work of teaching children—which is what Jacqueline has had in her heart and mind ever since the first day she created this project in her kitchen in Silver Spring, Maryland.
After lunch, Jacqueline, Olivier, and I headed to the village—the famous Bankondji—so that we could meet with the women of the village and talk to them in person about the tutoring program that’s starting next Monday. They were all gathered together in a room in the village having their meeting. We waited outside, as is the protocol, until we were invited in. We walked in to great warmth and hospitality—there are photos and videos of all of this, which I look forward to sharing—and I was given many hugs and taught to greet everyone in the local language (…I can’t remember the name of the language—I will need to ask Jacqueline in the morning). Jacqueline then talked to them about the program. Finally, I said a few words (in French, since I don’t speak the local language!), thanking them for their kindness and hospitality, and expressing my excitement to finally be in Cameroon, and especially in Bankondji which, for me, is the star on the map of Cameroon, the most important spot, since Aumazo is how I have become connected with Cameroon. We exchanged our mutual thanks and enthusiasm, and then Olivier, Jacqueline, and I got back in the car so that we could get back to the mission in time for our 3 pm meeting with the teachers.
Tomorrow we start the more formal training with the teachers. I’m using the All Kinds of Minds framework I learned from Rachelle Adams and Shannon Needham when we were at Barrie—I’ve translated some of the core materials so that we can use them together in French. (If you are interested in learning about All Kinds of Minds, visit allkindsofminds.org, and especially helpful might be the Learning Framework page – allkindsofminds.org/learning-framework – as that’s a document I chose to translate and share here.) It will be fascinating to see which of the constructs and principles make the most sense here versus how they land in the US. I chose to use this framework with the teachers as a way “in” to creating a more egalitarian learning environment. First we will explore the constructs for ourselves—what are our own strengths? what are our own weaknesses? what are our own affinities? How do we, as adults, leverage our strengths in order to manage our weaknesses? What difference does it make when we are able to do work that we are truly interested in? I am hopeful that the ambiance we created to day via InterPlay will help us as we explore these ideas together, and I plan to continue to use InterPlay forms throughout our training as a way to deepen our comfort with each other. (If you don’t know anything about InterPlay, visit www.interplay.org to learn something about it…. and, if you are lucky, there will be an InterPlay group meeting near you!)