Friday, December 18, 2015

Victories, Failures and What the Heck Was That?!

It’s official… I’ve been away long enough to crave certain foods. Two days ago, it was pot stickers. Today, it was samosas. I really do think I’ve lost a few of my marble because I attempted both… I must say the veggie pot stickers were AWESOME!!! I am totally making those again! They were savory yumminess that hit the spot just right. VICTORY! My samosas?

Well…You see…they sort of…exploded. They still tasted good, but they were more samosa pancakes than actual samosas. FAIL. Ashley’s List of things to Make Better #54923: Samosas.
At the beginning of the school year, I was sort of put in charge of the Arts Club. Did anyone tell me this? Why, that would be a big fat NO. I should have figured it out when I walked in the first day and everyone was looking at me expectantly… Anywhoo, the clubs presented on Sunday, and the girls in my club drew out and sang the Twelve Days of Christmas. While they are on stage singing, I sat in the audience with my own version dancing through my head: 12 homemade bagels, 11 Christmas boxes, 10 cozy naptimes, 9 friends with FaceTime, 8 students happy, 7 weeks of vacay, 6 stress relievers, 5 POUNDS OF CAMEROON COFFEE, 4 cups of creamer, 3 caffeine IVs, 2 cubes of sugar, and A GIANT CUP OF SANITY! Yes, my friends and I have way too much time on our hands during weekend phone calls…

Sometimes, I am still struck a little stupid by language. I live in an English speaking region, but the English is different. It’s sort of like the English I use with my friends and the English I use with my grandmother… Anyway, I was walking to a friend’s house after school last week, and I was once again reminded that there are differences. I passed a woman selling food on the side of the road, and I’m a little hungry so I ask her what she’s selling and she responds with a smile “gato”. I’m sorry…what? “Gato.” The convo went something like this:

“Hello, ashia!”
“My friend, hello! How?”
“Fine! How you?”
“No, fine.”
“What are you selling?”
“Oh, gato.”

Now, at this point, I am trying so hard to hold in the nervous laughter trying to bubble up inside me.

“Gato? What’s in it?”
“Oh, flour, yeast, sugar, water…” I release my laughter and she looks at me, so now I have to explain…
“I’m sorry. In Spanish, gato means cat…”

It took her a minute, but she laughed and laughed and laughed. Please, let me assure you no cats were harmed in the making of this “gato”. Although, many a cat are eaten in Cameroon… Cue Sweeney Todd music here.
With Christmas only a week away, my friends and I are preparing to celebrate in style! That vacation we all desperately need? Oh, yes, it’s happening. We’re leaving Saturday morning for Kribi. Four days on a tropical beach with a couple of awesome ladies? Yes, please! The running joke is Ashley is the Cameroon wife… why? Ashley cooks, bakes, and takes care of everyone. Good thing I like to cook, but you can bet your bottom dollar that we will be eating fresh fish, plantains and njamma njamma (greens) a couple of times while sitting on a tropical beach because we’re cool like that. For our trip, I decided we needed a little touch of home. Do you know how hard it is to explain Christmas stockings to tailors? They aren’t a thing here, so you find your fabric and go to the tailor to explain. My “big big sock bags” should be ready sometime today or tomorrow… This should be interesting. I’d sew them myself, but I lack a sewing machine and I am too lazy to hand stitch more than one. I plan on beading names on (another thing to add to my Cameroonian wife status: Ashley sews), but that might have to happen after giving them out while we’re watching movies one night…


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Grief and the Little Things

During preparation, you are told and come to peace with the fact that your call takes you to distant lands, and that means you won’t be there if something happens at home. You’ll have phone calls and internet (if it works), but you won’t be able to feel your family’s arms wrap around you. You won’t be able to say goodbye. Your tears are yours alone. I was glad when my mom called me to tell me my dog had needed emergency surgery. I knew what was happening. I knew everyone was pulling for her and the outlook was favorable, so when my ringing phone woke me up the next morning, the news of her passing hurt, but it wasn’t completely out of the blue. I still got up. I still went to work. I kept my grief to myself during the day and talked to my mom regularly. I went to a fellow missionary’s house, and I was able to talk through it. I felt better, but the guilt of not being there when she needed me still eats at me sometimes. 

Maybe I should have warned you this wouldn’t be a happy go lucky kind of post… 

I think that God knew I needed someone. He looked down and saw past my crumbling façade and reached out his hand in the form of sending Martha to me. While I was enjoying my friend and a light of happiness, the phone call came again. My mom had left work early because my uncle wasn’t doing well. I knew when I left the United States that he would likely not be there when I return in three years. I expected him to just fade away. What I didn’t expect was how sick he would get right at the end. Growing up, I just sort of figured he’d drink himself to death. When that’s the thought in your head, you don’t think he’ll end up in the hospital with raging sepsis and pneumonia likely from aspiration. It’s strange, but what I feel most guilty, most sad about is that I wasn’t there for my brother, and I’m not there now to help my dad make sense of the insanity that was my uncle’s world. A year of training as a case manager under my belt, and when I could use that to help my family, I’m thousands of miles and a poor internet connection away. It was as though a second massive wave had hit me before I could get a full breath in. Having Martha with me those first few days was my saving grace. I was able to vent, to cry and to smile. She helped me…Okay, she kicked my butt into high gear…get my apartment looking and feeling more like home. We played games (her wiping the floor with me in Phase 10 and me returning the favor with Rummy, a game I haven’t played in years). We went to the market. We watched movies. We relaxed. 

When I was little, we prayed to our guardian angels. As strange as it may sound, that was one of the easiest things for me to believe. Maybe it’s because my imagination really likes the idea of an angel walking beside me steering me out of danger or helping me make decisions, or maybe it was an easy explanation for the little things. I used to keep a “Blessings Journal” filled with the little things I was thankful for and the instances where I could look back and say, “I had help”. Anyway, I started one again. Being here, it’s easy to identify the things taken for granted while living in the U.S.; things like hot water, or heck, even running water, regular electricity, high speed internet, grocery stores, and paved roads. While Martha was here, that once familiar feeling of someone looking out for me was back in the form of a latte (something else we take for granted). Seeing  “latte macchiato” on the menu almost brought me to tears, so she and I made a special trip back just to enjoy liquid human happiness with foam so think it could almost support the weight of the teaspoon. You see, it’s the little things. It’s the little reminders to smile or the latte when all you need is a touch of home or the quilt to curl up in when all you need is a hug. Is it a stroke of luck or a guardian angel? Like the number of licks needed to get to the center of a tootsie pop, we may never know.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Hospital Mission

You try so very hard to be careful, but when everything seems to be stacked against you (rain, incoming tide, slippery volcanic rocks…veloceraptors), things happen. As part two of this joint blog post (the first being on The Horne Family Mission blog), I have the distinct pleasure of telling you about our second day in Limbe.

Having survived the haunted research facility, we piled our bags and all the children into the car for the adventure of finding a new hotel. Sounds like fun, right? It gets better.

Limbe is known for its black sand beaches, and as a California girl, the prospect of the beach and some really good seafood was just too good to pass up. We left the asylum not really knowing where we were going. We had a guidebook, but guidebooks in Cameroon are interesting… they don’t always reflect the current anything. So our search begins. We ended up sitting in the car in the parking area of a hotel while Eric went in search of a cyber café to print off a list of recommendations from Joy Newburn. By the time he returned with the list, it’s lunch time and everyone is feeling the ‘Ugh’ of our search, so we venture down toward the fish market for lunch. A series of rundown wooden buildings line the back of Down beach, the women out front barbequing fresh fish and shrimp. We find a place, park the car and head in. The seating area out back has a lovely view of the boat builders, fishermen and trash pile…?

I was really excited about the fresh fish cooking on the coals out front. The children each took a ride up and down the beach on Malik the pony. Logan was kind enough to cut the head off the fish so I didn’t have to look it in the eye. There is something unsettling about food looking back at you… After lunch, we begin our drive. We drive and drive and drive and drive. We found the hotel maybe twenty minutes outside of downtown Limbe with a sign pointing up the hill for the hotel and down the hill for the beach. Perfect. We get in, drop our things, throw on swimsuits and we’re off. The beaches are rocky. Tide is coming in, so the sand is now hidden from us, but we were determined to at least touch the water and see how far down we could walk. I wouldn’t call the water warm, per say, but it’s warmer than the Pacific I’m used to. Sparing you the details of the rock hunting and “wave riding”, I’ll skip to the exciting stuff.

On our way back to the stairs, the tide is higher, the rain is starting to fall, and we have to cross slippery, volcanic rocks. Nothing could possibly go wrong. Well, unless you’re me, and your handhold gives out and the rock under you shifts. I don’t really remember the falling, but I remember telling myself to roll. The last thing I needed was to fall flat on my face. There were shouts as I sat there doing a mental check. Head? Good. Neck? Good. Breathing and things like that? Good. Arms? Good. Back? Good. Legs? Well, huh. Negative, but hey, I can wiggle my toes and despite the blood gushing from my calf, I’m not in any pain! Eric and a man from the hotel jump to help me. Every step I took brought another pump of blood. It had more than filled my shoe and stained the black rocks, but my only focus was to get off the rocks. Sitting on the rocks bleeding profusely didn’t sound all that fun. Eric pulls off his shirt and ties it around my leg. Then comes the baby blanket to reinforce the shirt, and slowly, we make our way to the stairs and up to the hotel. Sitting on the tile porch of my hotel room, I carefully peeled the blood soaked (and I am not exaggerating) fabric from my leg and used my water bottle to clean off the blood and debris. 

The poor guy from the hotel looked freaked out, and I think we made it even worse with our joking. He did, however, fetch me the first aid kit. Having gotten the area clean, I know I need stitches so I ask the guy “Is there a good doctor close?” He nods almost hard enough to shake his head off. I have visions of the sign we saw driving through the village that was no more than an old partial piece of wood with “hospital—Doctors available 24/7” hand painted in white. “Is there a really good doctor?” He assures me there is, and runs off to get the manager, so he can drive me. Logan runs off to change, so she can go with me, and I thought about changing, but why? I hobble my way to the car, Logan comes out and we leave, visions of that sign still running through my mind. During the ride, I’m running through all the things I have to do. I have to email Janice. I should probably email Martha. I need to call my mom. Of course, that thought has me giggling. Growing up we had three parameters in which we could call her: not breathing, bleeding profusely, or already dead. I think I qualified.

We pull up to the Ministry of Public Health in the village of Batoke. There are people milling around, and I pull myself out of the back seat. Blood is once again making its way down my leg, but other than that, I feel fine! I walk up the ramp, careful of the moss. The LAST thing I need at the moment is to fall again. There are people waiting, and every single one of them is staring at the white woman bleeding in front of them. It was something out of a movie, I swear, but the doctor chooses that moment to walk past. He looks down at my leg, stops and points through the building. Triage? Bloody leg jumps to the front. He ushers us into the maternity ward of all places and leaves. Logan and I had to laugh. It was just too funny. She promises I won’t come out with a baby, and we wait for the nurse to make the bed, and pull tools out of the autoclave. She made the wrong bed though, so we waited for the doctor to get the sheet where he wanted it on the taller of the two beds.

As he pokes and prods, Logan and I are talking about taking pictures, but my iPhone was back at the hotel…too bad. Then I watch as he sticks his tool into the maybe centimeter long cut, and the metal just keeps going. What did I impale myself on? I can’t remember even seeing anything. Logan is just as confused. It was strange. He’s asking questions I don’t know the answer to because I didn’t know I had been impaled! I thought I was just cut up. Let me just say, Lidocaine burns, but the bizarre feeling of not being able to feel the surface of your skin is a fair trade, and I was fine until he started pressing on my leg. He had strong hands and was hitting the bone and nerves just right to make my leg quiver and my toes curl, so I finally just lay down. I had a room full of random people that I didn’t really want to look at anyway (he had invited them in to see the depth of my wound). Logan watched for both of us from the foot of the bed. A few tugs and some stinging as they cleaned the rest of my abrasions later, and everyone dissipates, the doctor setting an ice pack on my leg. Then Logan and I are left alone. I couldn’t feel the ice, but whatever. She and I talk about friendships and crossing friendship barriers. Considering that was the first time I spent any real time with them, I think we crossed some major friendship lines.

After twenty or thirty minutes, the nursing student comes back in to take me to the consult room to fill in the book and take my vital signs. When she couldn’t get my BP the first three times… Anyway, she says “It’s a little high.” I resisted the urge to come back with some snarky response dripping with sarcasm, but instead I just nod. It’s not like impaled my leg, bled into my shoe, and lost a bunch of blood or anything. Then she’s filling in the big book with all of my info. When she comes to next of kin, Logan and I both ask her if she wants the name of someone in country. My French is rusty, so I didn’t even try. She was already confused, so I just gave her my mom’s name thinking she could just copy my last name (that’s she’s already written). Yeah, no, I spelled it out for her. I met with the doctor, promising to come back so he could check the sutures and headed down to the pharmacy to get my drugs.

One of the nice things I have noticed is that people are genuinely with you when they speak to you. Everyone asked me what happened and everyone offered a heartfelt “Ashia” to me, and it felt wonderful. The hotel proprietor covered the cost of the clinic visit and my prescriptions, which had me thanking him profusely for two days. I left the clinic with my two boxes of antibiotics and two boxes of anti-inflammatories. It had to happen the first day at the beach…