Je suis dans la joie

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Je suis dans la joie

This morning at a women's breakfast, we sang my favorite French worship song. It was the first time I had seen the words written down, which meant it was also the first time that I understood the first half. I wanted to share it with you, especially as we approach the celebration of Jesus' resurrection and our life and joy in him.

Je suis dans la joie

Je chanterai de tout cœur le merveilles de mon papa Yahweh
Il m’a ôté des ténèbres, il m’a délivré de tout pèche.
Mon Papa est fidèle ; il ne m’abandonne jamais.
Je n’ai plus rien à craindre car Yahweh m’a libéré.
Je suis dans la joie, une joie immense.
Je suis dans l’émotion car Yahweh m’a libéré.

I am in the joy

I will sing with all my heart the wonders of my dad Yahweh
He has removed me from darkness, he has delivered me from all sin.
I no longer have anything to fear because Yahweh has liberated me.
I am in the joy, an immense joy,
I am so excited because Yahweh has liberated me.

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I am wonderfully made

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I am wonderfully made

This week was Special Emphasis Week at the school, with a focus on Self Awareness. Within this theme, we shared a lot from Psalm 139, praying that the students would understand that they are created by God and very much beloved by him. On Thursday, the female teachers spoke to the girls about our worth in Christ, especially regarding our beauty. We read them Psalm 139: 14 "I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are your works, and that my soul knows very well."

In the afternoon, I met with my small group, which is composed of four Cameroonian students, one Korean, and one American. As we talked about the message in the morning, two of the Cameroonians mentioned that the verse reminded them of a song. I asked if they would sing it for me, and was almost in tears by the end at the beautiful way it summarized everything we had been talking about this week. I wish I could sing it for you, but the lyrics are as follows:

I am joyfully made.
I am wonderfully made.
I resemble God.
I belong to him.
That is why the devil trembles
Whenever he hears me say
I am God's own
and the apple of his eye.

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Friday Rhapsody

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Friday Rhapsody

The van opens like an oven. Hot air rolls over us, and we quickly slide open windows as we pile in. The crickets and birds beat a rhythm, God’s soundtrack to our departure. 

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Psalm 86

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Psalm 86

Life is hard and God is good. Those words have been my song through the last couple weeks. Sometimes I feel my "to do" list looming over me, waiting to crash down on my head if I miss planning for a class or responding to an e-mail, if I forget to pick up money or pay my househelp, if I miss an appointment or don't plan well for a speaking engagement. Psalm 86 expresses so well what I feel in those moments:

Psalm 86

A prayer of David.

1 Hear me, LORD, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
2 Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; 3 have mercy on me, Lord,
for I call to you all day long.
4 Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
for I put my trust in you.
5 You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
abounding in love to all who call to you.
6 Hear my prayer, LORD;
listen to my cry for mercy.
7 When I am in distress, I call to you,
because you answer me.
8 Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;
no deeds can compare with yours.
9 All the nations you have made
will come and worship before you, Lord;
they will bring glory to your name.
10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, LORD,
that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.
12 I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your love toward me;
you have delivered me from the depths,
from the realm of the dead.
14 Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God;
ruthless people are trying to kill me—
they have no regard for you.
15 But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and have mercy on me;
show your strength in behalf of your servant;
save me, because I serve you
just as my mother did.
17 Give me a sign of your goodness,
that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,
for you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.

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Bannerman's Turaco

Sarah Dorsey D'13 asked, "What is the coolest animal you've seen so far?" Bannerman's Turaco

I haven't sought out animals all that much yet. In February, I'm taking a trip to the far north, so I'll hopefully get to check out the animal reserve while I'm there. However, I did see this really awesome bird in near Bamenda at Lake Awing. I didn't get a picture of it myself, but it was about the size of a large hawk, with lots of scarlet, blue and green.

It turns out that the guy who lived below me in Yaoundé is a birding hobbiest. According to him, it turns out that the bird is a very rare species called Bannerman's Turaco. It lives only in the area around Lake Awing in the northwest region of Cameroon. Pretty cool, huh?

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Insert Prompt

I'm an "educated", young, aesthetically-oriented techie who actually enjoys writing. Blogging should be my thing. But, as you can see, I haven't found the time or motivation to update in quite some time. Yet at the same time, I've had no problems responding to friends' well-scoped questions.

And so, I have an assignment for you. Give me a prompt. You know, like the ones you used to get in high school when they forced you to write essays. Questions that give short answers are fine, but try to ask me a bigger, open-ended questions that's been on your mind. You can give it to me by posting it as a comment or emailing it to me.

Here are a few examples of what you might ask:

  • Malaria? Wha really?
  • What do you like best about Cameroon? Do you think you'll go back ever?
  • How has being there affected your life plans?
  • Do you have a car? or a bike? or do you ride the city buses? or taxis? or little mules?
  • What is the first thing you're going to do when you get back to America?
  • What is the coolest animal you've seen so far?

In turn, I'll post the prompt and my response to it as an new blog entry in the weeks to come. Consider it my New Years' resolution.

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Groundnut soup

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Groundnut soup

Today, my househelp Camilla and I spent the morning at the market getting fruits and vegetables, and then Camilla very obligingly showed me how to properly prepare two traditional dishes, one of which was groundnut soup. Other than fufu and njamma jamma, this is the most Cameroonian meal I can think of. It's well-balanced, nutritious, and could be creatively presented with a sprig of herb or a few peanuts sprinkled on top. Looking for a quick dinner? Skip the meat—the peanuts provide enough protein on their own.

Groundnut soup

1/2 pound beef, cut in one-inch cubes
1 onion
3 tomatoes
1 sprig fresh parsley
2 small stalks celery
1 sprig fresh basil
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup unsweetened peanut butter
1 Maggie cube (or soy sauce to taste)
salt to taste
4-5 cups cooked rice

Put the beef in a medium pot. Cover and cook on low heat until the fat has simmered down. Add about 4 cups water and continue cooking until the meat is tender. Remove from the pot, reserving the liquid.

Meanwhile, coarsely chop the onion, tomatoes, parsley, celery, basil, and garlic. Liquefy them in a blender, then add them to the pot. Cook until the liquid is mostly gone, then add the peanut butter, Maggie, and salt. Stir, then add the beef again.

Serve the soup over a bed of rice, with a few pieces of meat on the top. Serves 8.

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Level Paths

This evening I returned from what felt like a journey to everywhere in Cameroon. Last Thursday I left right after school to travel to Bamenda, a cool city in Cameroon's northwest, with a family I know from the school. The day after that, we finished the journey to Mamfe, a steamy city in Cameroon's southwest. We stayed in Mamfe for two days before another teacher and I traveled back through Bamenda and up to a village, Bambalang, in the Ndop plain. We enjoyed the village for a day before returning to Bamenda for some relaxation and fellowship in the cooler mountain weather. This morning we hit up the Bamenda food market for some fresh produce, including broccoli, cauliflower, and peas, which are hard to find in the capital, and then returned to Yaounde.

Confused yet? Not to worry. I'll be writing more about what I was doing and posting pictures very soon. Suffice it to say that I thank God that we arrived back safely and that we were blessed in so many ways along the way.

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Can I have some zocalo?

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Can I have some zocalo?

My repertoire of Cameroonian dishes is slowly expanding, most recently to zocalo, which is also called pile. I ate it for the first time in September, and just yesterday got around to trying it for myself. This simple, filling dish consists of mashed ripe plantain with beans. When I mentioned to some Cameroonian friends that I would be making it, they all wanted to come try some! The pot I made fed three children, me, the woman who sold me the palm oil to make it, and had some left for a couple other friends that were delighted to get a little. One commented that I'd done a good job, but could mash it a little more the next time—there were still a few chunks of plantain in it this time.

Some of the ingredients might be hard to find in the U.S. Jennie, one of the girls who tried some, told me that her mom has made it with potatoes. I could see that working, but I think yellow potatoes would be best. I used dried beans that I had already cooked, but canned beans should work just as well if you're in a hurry. Unrefined palm oil gives the dish a lovely orange color (unsurprisingly, it's high in Vitamin A, but also in cholesterol). I doubt you can find it, so some vegetable or olive oil and a bit of achiote (annato) or paprika might do the trick.

Zocalo
8-10 very ripe plantains
2 cups cooked red beans
1-2 onions, chopped roughly
3 tablespoons unrefined palm oil
salt, to taste

Peel the plantains and boil them until very soft. Meanwhile, cook the onion until translucent. When the plantains are easy to pierce with a fork, drain the water. Add the beans, onions, palm oil, and salt and use a potato masher to mash the plantains.

I served this with green beans and carrots that I simply diced and simmered a bit--the combination is fairly Cameroonian.

Bon appetit!

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A Chance Encounter by Godfrey Kain

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A Chance Encounter by Godfrey Kain

In October, I had the privilege to visit the Kom Multilingual Education Project, where I was amazed at the level of engagement from students and teachers. A few scenes from the school are featured in a video that I posted several weeks ago; please let me know if you are interested in the link to it. This short story is by Godfrey Kain (center right), a Cameroonian who designed many of the materials that the school is using to teach students to read in Kom and then in English.

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How to cook manioc

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How to cook manioc

I had started a cooking blog, then realized that my ISP is blocking it, then also realized that I've been remiss in posting on my regular blog, so I decided to combine the two a bit. I'll try to share a bit of my daily life through the food that I've been cooking and the people that I share it with. Enjoy!

I've been experimenting with various starches here, trying to learn to cook with ingredients from the market. After cooking with plantain, I fell in love and began mashing, frying, and boiling them in everything I could think of. This week I finally decided it was time to move on, so I asked my house help, Camilla, to get some manioc from the market. I've seen and cooked with manioc before; it comes from the Andes and is also called yucca. Here, the root is also known as cassava, and as a Cameroonian told me, it is all starch.

I asked for $1 worth of manioc from the market, and wasn't quite expecting what I found when I came home from school. Camilla had returned with what must have been at least five pounds of large brown roots. My roommate asked me if I knew how to prepare the manioc properly, mentioning that it had cyanide on it. ¡Whoa! I didn't realize that could be a problem. Previously, I had cooked with waxed manioc, so perhaps it had already been processed somehow. Concerned, I left a note for Camilla asking if she could explain how to cook this delicious root. What follows is her response:

How to cook manioc: you first take off the skin, then you grate the backs of the manioc a little with a knife before you boil it. (She left me an example in a bowl). You don't have to leave manioc for many days because they can go bad. When you buy it, cook the very day or the next day. Well Megan, I hope when you read this you will understand.

I did understand and followed her instructions, and my bicep is a bit sore from cutting off the tough outer peel—Cameroonian women must be very strong! After peeling, I cut it into big chunks, washed them in a bowl of water, and then boiled them in a large pot. Once they were falling apart, I drained them and let them cool. I tried to pull out the tough fibers in the center (although I missed a couple and had to pick them out as I ate). The next day (for no particular reason other than that was when I had time) I added a cup of water to the pot, brought it to a simmer and used a potato masher to turn it into a piecy paste. When it was stirrable, I threw it 1/2 cup milk powder, dissolved in two minced cloves of garlic and 1/2 of water (those of you in the States might want to try a combination of butter and cream—really, any fattening dairy product should work). I let it simmer until the milk seemed to be absorbed and served it warm. Although the dish isn't typical of Cameroon, my Cameroonian friends seemed to enjoy eating this Ecuadorian side dish, and I'm excited to have lots of leftovers! This is a great dish for anytime when you want to make sure that no one will leave hungry—it's cheap, but very heavy.

In shorter recipe form:

Mashed Manioc/Yucca/Cassava
2-3 manioc roots
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup whole milk

Peel the manioc, getting rid of all of the purplish exterior pieces, then cut it in chunks. Wash the chunks in water. Add them to a pot and bring to a boil. Let simmer until the manioc is tender and falling apart. Drain and let cool. (One traditional Cameroonian dish would stop at this step and serve the root still warm.)

When cold enough to handle, pull the chunks apart into large pieces, removing any tough fibers that you find. Return to the pot and place over low heat. If the chunks are still fairly warm and soft, add the garlic and milk directly. Mash until it forms a soft paste. Serve warm.

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Google Witchcraft

Google needs to be careful where it uses its special-occasion mastheads. Here in Cameroon, I can't wear a t-shirt with bones on it because bones are associated with very real, very serious witchcraft. It's offensive not just in a, "oh, that's tacky" way or a "ooo, that's inappropriate" way, but in a fear for your life kind of way. Today, I opened up the Google Cameroon homepage and saw this seasonal Halloween tribute. It was nice and homey for me as an American. But for a Cameroonian, it's much worse than inappropriate.

Google Cameroon on the day after Halloween

These things are fine for Western Google sites, but Google needs to make itself a little plainer and safer for high-context regions where it doesn't know the context.

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Scrawny Man of Muscular Awesomeness

Jarrod, Catherine, Karissa and I pose with our guide in the rain just outside the bat cave. So 16 days ago, I left Yaoundé to go to Bamenda in northwest Cameroon. No pull ups for me there. And one week ago on Sunday I was still in Bamenda, and while we were hiking outside a Fulani village, I slipped on the bed of a steam in the rain and gauged my right palm. I returned from Bamenda on Monday. Since Friday (four days ago) I've been out sick with a stomach bug and haven't eaten very much. I've felt my muscles and my gut slowly fade away with a nice view of my scrawny bones taking their place.

This morning, I woke up at 5am and was feeling quite motivated to accelerate my return to good health, so I jumped on the pull-up bar (i.e., my shower rod). To my surprise, each repetition was much easier than I remember it being. I was able to do a set of eight pull-ups with very little effort, despite being way out of shape. I must have lost a ton of weight. Or at least, it seems like it. Before I got sick, I guess I weighed 145 lbs. Last night I weight myself in at 140 lbs. Does 5 lbs really make that much of a difference? And I was expecting my upper body strength to fade a lot faster than that. How quickly does that go?

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Prodigious

Alex overlooks Awing village So, I'm laying here on the couch with an uncomfortable stomach ailment, with little that I'm able to do but think, and I realize that I've written you next to nothing in the past to months. And I don't just mean on this blog; I mean in e-mails, prayer requests and cute little videos, too.

(Un)fortunately, it's not just because I'm lazy or busy, but because I have this newfound fear of sounding self-important (which I'm likely violating just by writing about it). I first noticed it during my first summer back home after I'd been in college. After spending nine months speaking in pompous, collegiate accents regarding only the most prodigious of matters, I came home, and people just couldn't understand me. My older brother first told me off for my big vocabulary, but I thought nothing of it (that's what older brothers are for). But then, a couple days later, I was talking to some ten-year-old, and he told me that I talked funny, that he couldn't understand me.

It's really haunted me since then. And it's sad. And now that I'm working for Wycliffe here in Cameroon, I want to share with everyone what's going on in my life. But, well, Christians can tend to put missionaries up on pedestals to start with; that last thing I need is to put myself up there by talking fancy. I was trying to write my first prayer letter like two months ago, and the big thing that came through when my friend Abar reviewed it for me was that I was talking (and by that I mean writing) oddly and unnaturally.

That's what I'm trying to cure myself of. Hopefully, but wasting a post and five minutes of your time to vent, I have cured myself of my fears and of my language problems, and I can now write about stuff like I really want to.

Who knows, maybe next time my writing style shifts to what I'd use for a college essay, folks will just wave it off because they realize that I have "issues" and they've come to terms with that.

There. It's done.

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One Sinner Who Repents

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One Sinner Who Repents

"Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,whose sin is covered" —Psalm 32:1 ESV

I just got back from evening worship at SIL a couple hours ago. There, the speaker for the day talked to us about repentance. It can be a big shortcoming for missionaries and their families, that they lack in a regular spirit of repentance. The church community at home puts long-term missionaries up on a spiritual pedestal because they've supposedly given up their lives in some special way, to some further level than their fellow believers. They're seen as a little more right with God than the other saints. And because there's a half-truth to that, that the missionary demographic tends to be more spiritually engaged than the laity of the church, missionaries internalize others' view that they've spiritually ahead.

And when you think of yourself as a spiritual success, it's really hard to recognize and confess your spiritual failures. It's not spiritually healthy. David writes about confessing,

"For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer" —Psalm 32:3–4 ESV

But, though it is initially painful to recognize our sin and turn from it, when "I acknowledged my sin to [God], ... [He] forgave the iniquity of my sin." God lifted his heavy hand from me, and I rejoiced.

How great is our God.

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Eating with unwashed hands

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Eating with unwashed hands

On my 22nd day in Cameroon, I happened to open a file with “Most helpful health tips for newcomers to Cameroon.” I had heard most of them before—the branch doesn’t wait three weeks before giving us this information, for obvious reasons, but the pdf concluded with a short poem that I thought would help my readers understand one element of living in Africa.

Wash your hands well
Filter your drinking water
Wash your raw veggies with Javel,
Wash your dishes with hot water
But
If you’re invited, or out somewhere
and
The raw veggies aren’t Javeled
The water isn’t filtered
You forgot your Purell
And the dishes are merely rinsed in cold water
Pray and thank God for your food (as you always do)
Eat or drink with appetite and thanksgiving
And trust God with your health
For there are worse things than the filth that may go into your stomach and pass out of your body
And an attitude of rejection which comes from the heart
Can do more harm to your relationships than the food to your body

Relationships are paramount in Africa and Latin America, in a way that they are not in my middle-class U.S. background. I spent a couple weeks in Mexico last summer, and very happily ate everything that was offered to me, as I was usually hungry and almost all of it was delicious. A thousand thanks go to my parents, who trained me from a young age to eat everything that was set before me! One evening, a Mexican colleague turned to me and said in Spanish “I like Megan. She is a very open person.” Pleased, but a little puzzled, since she had known me for less than a week, I asked her why she thought so. She replied that I ate everything that was given to me.

I have had a similar experience here. After a couple weeks of eating Cameroonian lunches at the school (we have the option to get Cameroonian food, cafeteria food, or bring food from home), a Cameroonian colleague commented “I can tell you are just loving our Cameroonian food!” Another colleague commented later that he was confident that I would eventually try carrying things on my head, a skill many Cameroonians learn from the time they are small. When I asked why he thought so, he said something about how I seemed open to the culture and trying new things. As the only examples of that are my poor attempts at using French in greetings and eating the food, I think it may be the simple act of eating that shows a willingness to experience and join the culture here.

Even in college, I had started to realize the importance of food in relationships. Food is community, and in a sense, food is love. People usually eat with their closest social network, and offering a cookie or some fruit can be a way to solidify a friendship. When we share our food with others, we show love and hospitality to them. By accepting others’ food, we show that we accept their love. In this way, what we eat reflects our obedience to the second greatest commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

I have not yet been offered food of questionable cleanliness, or had occasion to eat with unwashed hands. I pray that when I do, I remember that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body, but the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ Please pray with me that our eating and drinking may be acceptable to God and our brothers and sisters around the world.

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Roles

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Roles

I thought I was going to be teaching english to kids at the Rain Forest International School, but the school just moved from the campus I'm on to about 8 km away. So instead, I'm going in computer services and computer training. In computer services is practically the IT department. We set up and take care of all the computers and all the networking equipment. My place is at the Help Desk and as the Mac Guy. The Help Desk is open office hours for computer help. People come to us with problems, lot's of problems, mostly with their personal computers, and we try to fix them. And let me emphasize try. In the past four days, I just bricked my boss's boss's computer. "Bricked" as in, when I got it, it was worth something. It was a bit slow, but it worked. And when I gave it back, it was worth as much as a brick.

I can hear my dad whispering into my ear right now, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Oh, it makes me want to crawl into a hole. But then I also hear Hans-Peter speaking knowingly to me, "Alex, is God not sovereign? 'Trust in the Lord. Delight yourself in Him, and He will give you the desires of your heart." Oh, they're so right.

So that's the Help Desk. I was also informed just yesterday that I'm also the "Mac Guy". Apparently, Computing Services has lacked anyone with a lot of Mac expertise, and rumors are now going around to other Mac users that their technological savior is here. And so it is that, yesterday, a linguist from Bamenda, a town six hours from Yaoundé, came at my office to express how relieved he was that I had finally arrived. Yeesh. Eventually, I'll also be teaching OpenOffice to people, too. We used to use Microsoft Office, and most people here still do, but Microsoft just changed its policy on non-profit and academic licensing, so it's become too expensive for us. OpenOffice has what we need, and some of the linguistic programmers have even contributed to it, so we're adopting it now. Trouble is, no one knows how to use it, so I'll be going around training people in it soon. (Trouble with that is, I don't know how to use it either, so I need to learn it myself between now and then. X) )

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