Friday, August 14, 2015


I think a good way to describe assimilating into a new culture alone is as a leap of faith. Many things require you take the first step, take that leap, and force yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s like being the only person at a party not dancing. You stand in the corner awkwardly, bobbing your head and sipping your drink as your eyes shift from side to side watching everyone participate and interact seamlessly. It’s uncomfortable, but chances are someone at the party will notice you and convince you to join.

To quote the song Through Heaven’s Eyes:

No life can escape being blown about
By the winds of change and chance
And though you never know all the steps
You must learn to join the dance
You must learn to join the dance

This whole transition to living in a new country, a new culture has been about learning to join the dance or dances. You have the Cameroonian community, the school community, the missionary community…

In many ways, I will be the outsider for a long time to come, but I am finding my way. I have found a few ladies in the market who make shopping less stressful. I know which stalls I can go to for certain things, and I know that a smile and a question go a long way. For this, I am thankful.

Before she left, Joy Newburn introduced me to a few of her missionary friends including Elsie, Jake and Holly, Cam and Valerie, and Philip and Kristen. In the last few weeks, all of them have reached out to me. All of them have invited me over or made sure I had what I need. They have helped to make the transition easier because they understand what I’m going through. They’ve been in my shoes (even though many of them did so 10+ years ago). They know where to find things. They know who people are, and who is trustworthy. They are teaching me a lot, and at the same time, I am teaching them. For this, I am thankful.
This week and next, I am staying with Elsie at her house across Bamenda. I don’t need to, but it’s nice. You see, I am helping her with SCA (Sonshine Christian Academy), a homeschooling program she runs for missionary families in the Northwest. Because I have very little to do at home other than read, watch movies and clean, she asked if I would teach the middle school language arts. Even though this week has been frustrating and busy, I am so glad she asked me. It has given me the chance to get to know some more of the missionary families and break away from the mind-numbing routine that I had fallen into. For this, I am thankful.
Through these connections, I have been invited “to the village”. Basically, I have invitations to spend a week or two with the various families in at their mission sites. Many of these places are only accessible with a 4x4 with dry ground. At some point in the next three years, I will get to these places. I will hike the last three hours to the village to join the Scotts and comb the Cameroonian forests with the Conrads looking for the famed, mysterious mokolo mbembe, a dinosaur believed to still live in the swampy areas of Cameroon and the Congo. Their friendships and advice are so much more than a connection; they are chances for fulfillment, companionship, adventure and fellowship. For this, I am thankful.
Slowly but surely, I am learning to join the dance, to let go and trust in God and his plan for me. It isn’t easy, but the reward will be worth it in the end. It is already unforgettable.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Bedtime Story

As I am writing this, I can hear the thunder rolling in the distance and the joyful sounds of traditional drums and chants in the background. There is a retreat starting tonight at the school, and sound seems to travel differently here. The running joke is that I attend mass four times a day with out ever leaving my apartment. I can hear every word even though the chapel is on the other side of the compound. Today, I have walked up the hill needlessly (as the person I needed to see was in a meeting), been to a fellow missionary family’s house for a birthday party (bbq chicken and potato salad), made rice for the cat, been bit by said cat twice (he is skating thin ice, but thankfully no broken skin), and written out a shopping list for tomorrow. The day is winding down, so it’s time to unwind. I have been promising my family I would post this particular blog, so I finally brewed myself a pot of tea and sat down to write.

I’d tell you to close your eyes, but that defeats the purpose. Instead, I want you to unlock your imagination. Delve deep into the recesses of your mind and unlock the door to the world of infinite possibilities and put yourself into my shoes for a few moments.

It’s late, the sun having long ago fallen behind the mountains and the city has quieted from an abundance of noise to a dull roar of bugs, birds, beasts and the occasional car. You rinse the last dish in the sink from dinner and dry your hands, turning off the light on your way out of the kitchen. You walk into your room, careful to keep the cat out. The last time he wormed his way into your room, he sprayed your quilt for a second time and tore a hole in your curtain. The air in the room is cool, so you pull on your pajamas and a pair of socks to keep your toes warm. There is nothing worse than having cold toes when you’re trying to sleep peacefully.

You do a quick check of your room to make sure things are off the floor and turn on your lantern so you don’t have to fumble with your mosquito net in the dark. You’d probably rip it or yank it out of the ceiling if you tried that. With a quick flick, the light goes off, only the soft glow of the lantern to guide you. Unclipping the slit in the net and slipping inside, you are finally in your little cocoon of peace and relaxation. You clip the mosquito net closed, twisting the two edges together to seal it and tuck it up under your mattress. You get yourself situated in the center of the bed, slide your legs under the sheet and fluff your pillow, thankful you brought one from home because the pillows here are about as comfortable as a rock. You pull your quilt up to your shoulders and take a moment to surround yourself with the love the quilt represents. Each fabric was handpicked to represent a loved one—a memento from home to curl up in when you need a hug. Your breathing evens out and the world begins to lull you to sleep.

In the muddled world of half asleep, you hear a buzzing—no, not a buzzing, it’s more of a vibration. You know, the one you hear as a fly zooms past your ear. “Thank goodness for a mosquito net,” you think, turning over and stretching your legs out a little more. Again you hear the noise only this time it’s closer. It grows louder, and you feel an unsettling breeze on your cheek. Panic courses through you. The sanctity of your mosquito net has been breached. Something is in there with you, something with wings. Your tired mind struggles to come awake and begins fantasizing that the demon in the net is a rabid bat and soon you would feel its teeth sink into your flesh. You reach for the lantern, but it won’t go on. The battery needs to be recharged and your stomach seems to fall to your toes. Your trembling fingers land on your flashlight and you click it on expecting the worst, but in the light, you see nothing. You check everywhere, lifting blankets and pillows trying to find the source of the ghostly wind on your cheek.

The vibration is gone, but you know what you heard. You know something is in there. You know, but it seemed to have vanished. The adrenalin is wearing off, and you can feel your body beginning to crash.

Carefully, you slid your legs back under the sheet and pull the quilt to your chin, taking deep breaths to calm down. You turn off the flashlight and once again find yourself in darkness. Usually, you find darkness peaceful, but without an answer, your mind vilifies the dark world around you. As your breathing evens out once again, you manage to banish the wild thoughts from your mind and close your eyes. Just as you feel your body relax into your foam mattress, the vibration is back. It seems to be coming for you. Your breath hitches, and your hands begin to tremble. Your fingers can’t seem to find the flashlight you literally just held in your hands, and the mysterious wind is back. With a swallowed scream, you pull your quilt over your head, tucking it under your body as much as you can to keep whatever it is away. It is there inside the comfort of your quilt that you drift off to sleep.

The sound of your neighbor’s crashing pots as she prepares a meal for her family wakes you. Sunlight peaks in from around your curtains and reflects off the teal paint covering your walls. You roll over and open up the net careful to seal it behind you. After putting the cat outside for the day and finishing breakfast, complete with your daily dose of an anti-malarial, you walk back into your room to get dressed and make your bed. The memory of the horror of last night is not really important as you start a new day. The mosquito net is carefully tucked around your mattress, so you gently pull it out. As you loosen one side, a dark object falls onto the ground at your feet.

Startled, you jump back a little and look down. Lying on red tile at your feet is an at least two and a half inch cockroach. On one hand you feel relief at knowing what the intruder of your peace the night before was, but on the other you are sitting somewhere right around nauseous. Its legs twitch and out of reflex you stomp down with your slipper clad foot two or three times to make sure it’s really dead.

You kick it through your house not wanting it anywhere near your hands. What if it comes alive and crawls? Yeah, no. Plus, maybe it will send a message to any other cockroach the size of Texas that your house is off limits. As soon as it’s mangled body flies over the edge of your concrete “porch” into the grass, you slam the door shut and rush into your kitchen for a bucket, some bleach and your floor rag.  You don’t stop until every tile in your house glistens. Only then are you able to breathe.

Pro of this entire experience: my floors got cleaned. Con: I’m a little more paranoid when I hear things at night. Having something with you in the mosquito net—an object designed to protect you from bugs—is unsettling, and there is just something about cockroaches that sends shivers down the spine. This morning, I killed two more cockroaches, but there was no panic. I just stepped on them and flung their bodies into the grass. For the record, I have been here a month today, and there have only been five cockroaches in my house. I am told they are a part of life here, so I think I am doing just fine with my five. I just hope they choose to stay out of my mosquito net from now on.