I am a missionary. I will forever be grateful for the lessons of patience and perseverance God has taught me the last few months. I was hired to teach. I had mentally prepared to teach. When I got here, I didn’t know where I was going to live. I didn’t know what subject I was teaching. Everything was new and a little daunting. Joy (the outgoing missionary) got my keys, helped me move in, and got me acquainted with the market. I used the rest of the rainy season to find my way around and grow more confident in my surroundings.
When school started, I realized that teaching anything was out of the question. Why, though, I may never know. Every time I asked or spoke to the principal, I got a different answer. When I tried to talk with the education secretary, he was out. For the first few weeks, working in the library wasn’t so bad. I had someone to talk to. I got to talk to students when they came in. I got to learn a little more about Cameroonian culture through working with the librarian.
The thing is, I began to grow frustrated. I wanted to work and get things done, but my idea of how it should be done or the pace it should be done at differs just enough to cause divide. I became angry. I started sleeping in later and later and not giving myself time to get breakfast or enjoy a cup of coffee in the mornings. I found myself using the dead time I had while I waited for the librarian to catch up with me—out of respect for the principal’s request that I work at the librarian’s pace—reading or daydreaming. I went home mentally exhausted from keeping up a façade through the day. I stopped eating the way I knew I should. It was bad.
I finally opened up to the Auxiliary Bishop. I told him everything: lack of hot water, frustrations with the work pace, the restrictions placed on library books, the run-around I was getting… I’m glad I talked to him. Even though I still had to go to the library every day, I had hot water. I had someone I could talk to and get advice from. He is the one that called Sr. Imelda, and asked if she’d like me to work with her. I met with Sr. Imelda once, and it was decided. My job would be changing.
The job I have moved into is vastly more taxing, but I would rather go home at the end of the day having spent the day working, making an impact, than sitting there angry at the world. As I sit here writing this, I am sitting in my new apartment. Things are quiet. I don’t have 750 girls screaming and running past my house. I don’t have a rooster crowing every fifteen seconds outside my window. I have a place in a new building, and even though I only have running water every few days, I am beginning to learn how to conserve water and fill buckets and barrels when I do have it. The apartment doesn’t echo like my last one. The floors are a neutral color rather than circa 1970 red and blue tiles that caused your vision to throb. I have a place I can make my own rather than living in what had been intended as a guesthouse.
With my new job, I get to travel a little more. I wouldn’t necessarily say I have the joy of going to our clinics, but I am grateful I get to go. The roads are challenging. I made the comment to those I was with that all I needed was to remember to put cream in a jar before coming so I could have fresh butter. My shoulders, neck and back were “thanking” me for the journey for days.
The village, Esaw, doesn’t show up on most maps. It’s a wide spot on the dirt path through the mountains a few kilometers beyond Teze where the church and market are. The clinic has a staff of three: a nurse, a nursing assistant, and a grounds keeper. There hasn’t been a patient in a week, but I suspect that has more to do with an inability to pay than having illness.
The clinic is small. It has two wards with no more than ten or eleven beds, a lab with a microscope and a few dusty bottles, a consultation room with a drug cabinet and a canteen that sells dry goods like rice and flour. The equipment is old. Things are wiped down but not clean and definitely not sanitized. There are no bed nets. There’s no refrigerator for vaccines. The path leading to the toilets was riddled with used needles, and there is no trained midwife. Women in the village have to trek or take a motorbike to the regional hospital run by the Ministry of Public Health to deliver, and many deliver on the side of the road. Going out there is a slap in the face, a wake-up call.
You can think of a million simple solutions, but implementing them is difficult and challenging the culture is like walking on a high wire over the Grand Canyon in the wind. You are confronted with the realities of poverty and begin to realize that poverty in the United States and poverty here are two different beasts. There is no government assistance. There are no health insurance or food pantries. One in three children in Cameroon are malnourished and their growth stunted. There’s one little girl in the village, who at three, is no longer walking, doesn’t speak more than “baby babble”, and despite eating, she doesn’t grow. Her diet consists of plantains, cocoyam and cassava. They fill her stomach, but they don’t provide enough nutrients for her. It’s hard holding that child in your arms and knowing there is very little that you can do because the effects of poverty on her body and growth are already permanent.
Sitting here, all I can think about is how blessed I am. I have a roof over my head and food to eat. I have a bed to sleep in and one for my guests. My floors aren’t dirt, and I have a door that locks. I have a job I’m excited about. I have wonderful friends close by (by that I mean across town). I can call my family when I want to. I have more than I need. I am truly blessed.
Life in the mission field is challenging, but it’s also rewarding. The experiences, friendships and everyday life change you, mold you into the best you that you can be. Even though the last eight and almost a half months have been hard, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I get to impact lives while my own life transforms. I get to have experiences that I will be able to relate to people and look upon fondly years from now. My heart is more open to God’s love and gentle influence, and in return, I can live the life He intends for me. I am Ashley Hansen, and I am a missionary.