Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cameroon 2012: Worth More Than Peanuts

After the day’s 5 hour hike, we were in dire need of a good cleaning once we arrived in Menji, the village where we’d be staying for two days.   

I’ll be honest, it felt rather convicting to feel as though I had somehow earned that luxury by merely hiking from one village to another, given that these people exert that much effort on a regular basis, and it’s nothing out of the ordinary for them.  There are teachers that walk that far to work in the valley during the week.  Some walk further. 

Church alone is nearly a two hour walk from Menji, a walk that many faithfully make every Sunday morning, as well as for additional church services.  Regardless of the physical exertion we’d put out that day, cleanliness required water, and water was precious and scarce. 

Our best option was a local stream an easy 10 minute walk past Menji.  Captain Ed offered to walk the women to the stream so he could show us where to bathe, and while we bathed, he would hike back to Menji and get the boys. 

The best place to bathe was just below a shallow waterfall that flowed under an old footbridge.  The water was cool, clear, and refreshing to our tired, dirty and achy bodies. 

It felt so good to have an opportunity to wash up!  I had brought goat milk soap, and used a bit to wash off what seemed to be an inch of caked dirt and sweat off of me.  Once I washed up, I chose to sit down in an area of the river that enabled my body to be submerged up to my shoulders, that way I’d let most of my body soak, but not get my hair wet.  It was so good for our limbs to float, gently supported by the water. 

Wendy sat nearby as well, each of us allowing our tired muscles to soak, relax, and cool down, while watching a gorgeous array of butterflies converged on the opposite shore.  

It was mesmerizing to see so many varieties of butterflies in one place, especially the ones with unusual color combinations that we would not have the opportunity to see back home, such as black and aqua.   

As my eyes adjusted to the colors in the stream and the flow of the water, I began to easily track the movement of fish swimming nearby.  There were so many!  As I kept watching them, I realized that their movement was unusual but familiar...  It took me a moment to realize that these weren’t regular fish, but seemed more in line with a plecostamus or “algae eaters”.  They would hover above all the rocks, moving slowly as they fed off the algae on the rocks, but would bolt as soon as they sensed nearby movement.  Traditional plecostamus originate from South America, so these weren’t likely true plecostamus, I don’t know, but they were a very similar style of fish as far as swimming movement, behavior, and activity went.  I’m surprised that with as many of these fish as there were, that they’d be any algae left anywhere in the stream!

Glad that these weren’t piranhas!  As long as they stuck to algae and not flesh, all was cool!  :o)

Back at our guest house in Menji, we ate supper and prepared our sleep area for the night by claiming a spot on the ground where we’d prefer to sleep, and getting our sleeping bags set up while we still had the advantage of daylight.  As we were going about preparing our spots, someone noticed that we had unexpected company.  Maybe to this enormous brown hairy spider, we were the unexpected company. 

(One of the team members took a photo -- once the photo is available, I will share -- I know y'all want to see it!)

Isn't he lovely?  Those boards are 4 inches across, just for some basic size reference...

Hairy Beast, as I’ve chosen to name him, was resting on a wooden beam above us, and didn’t seem to be in a hurry to get anywhere.  I wasn’t alarmed, but I must admit I made a mental note to periodically check to ensure it was still there.  It seemed preferable to me for it stay in that spot, rather than to find him wandering through our sleeping bags in order to find a dark and cozy corner in which to sleep... especially given that I had chosen the corner spot to rest my head that night...  just sayin’!   

On a good note, no one had said that all spiders in Cameroon were venomous!  Still, something about this one didn’t seem overly innocuous.  Had any of us suffered from arachnophobia, he/she would have been able to add insomnia to their list of issues for the next lil’ while...  at least until the sight of this spider the size a human hand faded from memory.

The kids... oh my heart, the kids...  It was altogether different than what I had witnessed in Honduras and Ghana.  The kids here seemed subdued, reserved, and rarely approached us, choosing instead to observe us from a distance.  Most of the time, when they approached, an adult would "shoo" them away from us.  

At one point, we were served fresh roasted peanuts, and one of the children who had lined up against the wall with a dozen other kids approached one of the adults that lived there to ask for some, and he was harshly reprimanded.  

Dejected, the young boy returned to sit by the wall. 

I stopped my mid-afternoon journaling to wrap my mind around what I was witnessing, and began to think back to earlier interactions I had witnessed between local adults and children...  

Time and time again, I had seen what I can only describe as adults treating children as though they are stray dogs.  It’s a harsh description, but here, children come last, they are pushed away, and seem to be invisible.  

The more I watched, the more my heart broke.  

I got up, went to get a handful of peanuts from the tray, and went in search of the boy who had been pushed aside, his needs/wants dismissed.  I called him to me, looked into his eyes and smiled as I opened his hand, and quietly gave him the nuts.  I tenderly touched his face and communicated love to him without words.  

After all, are not a boy's heart and spirit worth so much more than a mere handful of peanuts? 

I was aware that doing so could cause trouble, as children learn quickly in this harsh environment that they can take advantage of our presence there and beg aggressively...  and we'd had such issues already in Cameroon.

Still...  there are times when we are called to be love against the grain, and this was one of those times.  

It had less to do with the food than it had to do with this boy’s crushed spirit.  

Children need to know they matter to someone, that someone notices them with love.

As much as it pained me to see their dirty faces, their torn clothes, their bellies swollen with parasites and malnutrition, their hunger... 

Perhaps it hurt more to see that these children are not suffering from such things as much as they're suffering from the world's lack of compassion.  I'm so thankful to the ones who do reach out to these children, to the broken, the hurt, the sick, the poor, the oppressed, the enslaved, the lost...  may it lead to a viral outbreak of compassion that touches the lives of each and every one of those in need.

I spent time with the kids who were on the outside, looking in.  I took their photos, and made them laugh, paying attention to each and every one of them individually. 

A young girl was carrying a precious baby on her back, and I asked her for permission to hold the baby.  I wandered up and down the courtyard, completely lost in this beautiful little girl’s eyes that I held in my arms.  The world could have stood still, and I’m not certain I would have noticed.  I eventually had to give her back, much to my chagrin, and doing so made my arms ache from the emptiness, but there were so many more kids who were hungry for attention.                                    

The activities for the following day were optional, so I asked Dominica, the woman who had been hired to cook for us, if she attended church in the area on Sundays.  She said that yes, she normally went to a Catholic church in the area.  I asked her where it was, and if I could accompany her.  She said that it was a little less than a 2 hour walk, but that since she was cooking for our team, she wouldn’t be able to attend church the following morning.  It deepened my appreciation even more for the hospitality she extended to us. 

I asked if she had a Bible, she said that she had never owned a Bible, and she did not have one available.  I shared that I had brought a Bible, and offered to join her in the morning as she did our meal preparation – if she couldn’t go to the church, we’d simply bring church to her!  She chuckled and agreed, and said “Ok, we will see you in the morning, then!” 

As I was sitting outside at the table that evening, journaling by flashlight while the team hung out and swapped stories, I began to think of Dominica not having a copy of the Bible, and how difficult it would be to get to know God intimately without His words, His love letter to us, His guidance in written texts. 

(One of my Bibles, March 2010)

All through this trip, I had taken advantage of any down time we had to study my Bible and journal, and I couldn’t imagine not having His Word at my fingertips.  It’s the first thing I pack, the only thing I really truly need.  I thought back to the other Bibles I had at home...  the Greek & Hebrew Study Bible, a Mom’s Devotional Bible, a NIV/Message Parallel Study Bible, as well as several others, along with the Bible app on my phone...  

How rich are we, to have more than enough, when the opposite of extreme poverty is simply “enough”?   

Even as much as I give, I still have too much.

I thought of the small sacrifice it would be to go without a Bible for the following 7 days, in order for someone seeking His word to have one for countless years...  I could give her the Bible I had brought with me.  Nothing less than that would ever make sense.  I just wished I could do more while I was there, with her.

As I was journaling, some of my team mates asked about my journal, what kind of things I write, and whether I'd be willing to share.  I said I'd be willing to read a few pages to them if they'd like, so they joked that we could have tomorrow night's round-of-beers non-campfire activity as "JD reading from her journal."  Although in the end it didn't happen, they're welcomed to read bits and pieces of it on these blog pages.  As for the paper version, the journal was quickly filling up.  My Bestie had prepared this journal and sent it to me just for this trip, so that I could write during my down time.  She had written a letter in the beginning pages, as well as tucked letters of encouragement in the back for me to open as I felt led to.  In the journal's pages, she randomly wrote secret little notes and messages to make me smile.  My favorite was "Still writing, eh?!"  She knows me well.

I still had so much to journal, but the light I had tucked into my bandana to light the pages was attracting an increasing number of bugs, which was in turn drawing the bats to me.  They were swooping around my head in search of a late night snack.  

It was well past time to go to bed anyway, my mind was doing the craziest things the longer I stayed up – like considering going for a run the following morning...  I had walked, hiked and climbed in Africa, but never run...  Someday, I will – but not this Sunday.  

Unless I end up having to chase a snake, or outrun Hairy Beast’s 8 long hairy legs?