Saturday, September 27, 2014

A day at the orphanage


Fruit stand with guava and bananas
Yesterday we went to the orphanage. It is down a long muddy hill and sits on a stunning little piece of property overlooking lush, green, tropical foliage and banana trees and narrow glistening inlets. But it is hard to notice this expansive view with seven children on your back, hips, hanging on your waist and climbing and your shoulders and four on each arm. I generally avoid photo-ops with orphaned children, for reasons too long and controversial to address here. However, I had to show you Martinique "Martini". And this beautiful photo of Sherri being styled by Marvelous and Lauren Bless. 

I could reflect for a lifetime on going to this one place. It is poverty. It is rejection and injustice. There are solutions to their poverty and their way of life. There could be more for these children. They live in filth, are constantly ill, are uneducated. We sat on the floor and played jacks with stones. They are content to their simple games of hop scotch and clapping games and that is okay, I guess. But not really because it is not 1940, it's 2014 and these children deserve much more. And these are just the outward, physical observances. The emotional damage, rejection and isolation and it's impact on these children is huge.

Sherri and I sat in silence on the ride back, both just sad from the injustice and our minds racing as to what we can do. What is my part and my role in this and how I can I not simply just walk away from this place but do something to help these no longer nameless, faceless children? To me, money from the West is not the answer. But I don't know precisely what is. I think it is a culmination of a lot of solutions to a lot of problems. One thing that I noticed right away in being here in Cameroon is how bright and articulate the people are. Sherri's students shine with intellect and passion. They are part of the solution to the problem. Sherri is on to something powerful as she is here equipping this generation to take on these issues and bring real change. It is part of the reason I am here. For us all to sit down and dialogue about solutions. We don't have to reinvent the wheel, creative solutions to poverty are happening all over the place. We just need to discover what best fits this place at this time. 

I love being here because I see the passion and intellect and drive on this young generation of Sherri's students. They are living, breathing hope to the hopeless. They are the answer and I get to hang out with them. It is an honor. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Yes He is and you, Little Man are brave!

The view from Sherri's front porch

I made it. The journey was long. The flight to Doula stopped unbeknownst to me in Libreville, Dakar. I was crawling out of my skin by the time this almost 8 hour flight was over after having just gotten off a 17.5 hour flight. Way too may hours of sitting and staring. Odd how so much sitting will wear you slap out. The airport in Doula took me home with that familiar first whiff of Africa. The airport air smelled of urine, breath, sweat and fuel. It was sultry to say the least. I kept having to wipe my face at baggage claim, where a sign boasted "Home of Coca Cola". It took me way to long to notice that I was the only white girl. I gathered my luggage on a rickety cart and pushed it out to find Sherri waiting for me. Porters were trying to grab my bags as we were trying to hug necks but we fought them off like pros. Well, okay Sherri fought them off while I stood there flabbergasted and bewildered. I have done all of this before but all the transition from one world to the other takes more than a moment. 

It was an hour and a half drive from Doula to Buea. It was dark and I could not see much other than lots of green. Rainy season is coming to an end but what I saw was all so vibrant  lush and tropical, even in the dark. The boys who collected us pulled over on the side of the road at one point to let a car behind us take over. They were doing it as a trick so that the lead car would be the first to be stopped at the police checkpoint and we would be able to proceed. Sure enough, it worked. At the first checkpoint the police was peeing on the side of the road, lucky for us. And at the second, the car who had over taken us was stopped and we were allowed to sail right through. I am usually the foreigner in this situation and only see it from my point of view. It was interesting to see that even the locals struggle with police issues and government bureaucracy and it is not just a plot against me alone. 

We parked the car at the bottom of the road to Sherri's house and walked up hill the final bit of the journey home. At that point I did wonder if I would EVER arrive. I had left on Saturday, it was almost Wednesday. We hiked up the wet, steep, rocky hill and Sherri's beautiful oasis was a beacon on a hill. It looks as if it were made for a princess, a little African castle with iron gate. We tumbled inside and sat in silence as there were no words. I had a million questions and we have four years of catching up to do but my language portion of my brain wouldn't work so we just looked at each other and laughed. 

I slept 10 hours thanks to the major fatigue and Melatonin. This afternoon we went into town to attempt to buy a SIM card for my phone but something is wrong with their computers and they cannot activate them. I exchanged money and bought coffee. The town of Buea is busy and hopping. It is so different than Pemba. The women here are smartly dressed and people are busy and going places and professional. Apparently 80% of Cameroon is French speaking and the other English. We are in the English speaking region. You have no idea how wonderful this is. Half of my major frustrations in traveling internationally and working in Africa has been because of language barriers. You never know if someone is saying, "Good morning, how do you do?" or "Good afternoon, if you don't give me your bag, I am going to kill you." You have to be incredibly attentive to tone of voice and body language and all of your surroundings. You feel as if you have lost one of your senses and all the others step up to fill in the gap that is left by you essentially being deaf. But on the streets of Buea, I could have found my own way and enjoyed being able to greet and understand others. 

Sherri lost a very close friend this week to cancer. She is at the home of her friend now. I can feel her loss among the community of Sherri's Cameroonian family in my short time being here. I am amazed at God's timing and am glad I can be here for Sherri in this very moment and in these days ahead. He knew she needed a friend and I am honored He sent me. 

We have loads on the calendar, a course I will be teaching, planning sessions for future projects, and staff meeting tomorrow. But for now I am re-entering, breathing in Cameroon and it feels so good. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Athens to Nashville to Chicago to Washington, DC to Dakar to Johannesburg to Doula, Cameroon

I am in Johannesburg. I took for granted all that lifetime of living close to Hartsfield International. I could be there in 10 minutes, door to door. I got on an international non-stop flight, from the new terminal which is a cinch and settled down to movies and melatonin and I woke up in Africa. It wasn't the case this time. This journey began as far back as last week when I took a tiny Cessna from Athens to Nashville. I mention this because I recommend it. It is a 1hr 50 minute flight on what I have only been on to island hop. But instead you get to coast over trees and subdivisions and sit right up front and text and use all your electronic devices. No flight attendants, no loo, no peanuts. Just a very easy, convenient and tiny bit thrilling flight right to the back door of the Nashville International Airport. It is quite private and the service was top notch.

I unpacked and repacked in Nashville and slept two whole nights in my own bed. I ate Mexican and fish tacos and ran in Target for last minute necessities and got a pedicure. I then took a Southwest flight from Nashville to Washington, DC. I chose DC because I have been hearing for quite some time about South African Airways offering cheaper flights than Delta to Joburg but you have to fly out of New York or Dulles. Laura just moved quite close to Dulles and the fact that this trip took me all over the African continent, I chose SAA for all those inter-continental flights and I really, really, really wanted time with Laura. I've flown SAA intraAfrica several times, but after this international experience I must warn you: there is no comparison to Delta. I felt sorry for those who paid all that money for a first class ticket when I saw their seats that did offer loads of leg room but that's about it. No snuggly private pods like Delta. No champagne. We stopped in Dakar although my itinerary said nothing about this. The food was below average. Service was intermittent, food was served before beverages leaving us all to swallow hard. My TV set didn't work. My neighbors audio was inaudible. My 17.5 hour entertainment shut off 30 minutes into Invictus and left me and my tired soul to a paperback book. I slept upright as much as possible thanks to Melatonin and sheer determination. Being 5'4" helps in times like this. But alas I am here and although collecting my bags took ages, I retrieved them and went to Woolworth's to peruse their Spring fashions and buy dinner, breakfast and lunch for tomorrow- sushi, spinach, yogurt and popcorn. I also picked up body wash and facial moisturizer in efforts to travel light and get what I can en route. I leave once again on SAA for Cameroon tomorrow afternoon. 
In and out of Chicago. Southwest let's you change your flight without fees. I like them.

I am staying overnight at the home of gracious friends of Iris Global who always allow me to stay.  They pick me up at the airport and everything. I have stayed here so often now that it has become routine and familiar. Oddly enough the house doesn't have running water at the moment, preparation for the month to come. I am trying my best to stay awake. I am grateful it isn't cold. I usually travel through SA when it is winter and it is brutally cold and quite miserable for a spoiled American used to central heat but I have learned and have my hot water bottle nearby. I can almost hear the African crow that will be waking me from the roof at sunrise. Typing this to keep my eyes open and force myself into their time zone. Safe and sound and excited to soon land in Cameroon! More soon! XO, Grace

Saturday, September 6, 2014

seeds and such

“We wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way, begin no day where we have ended another day; and no sunrise finds us where sunset left us. Even while the earth sleeps we travel. We are the seeds of the tenacious plant, and it is in our ripeness and our fullness of heart that we are given to the wind and are scattered.” 

It is almost time! I leave Nashville on the 9th to spend a little time with family in Georgia and South Carolina and speak to a few groups about the project in Cameroon. I fly back to Nashville on the 17th with SeaPort Airlines from Athens, GA, grateful for cheap, short one hour flights. I leave Nashville on the 20th and will fly to DC and spend one night with Laura and family and depart on the 21st on a very long, really expensive flight to Johannesburg. I stay over night on the 22nd and leave on the 23 for Douala, Cameroon. I got my visa in the mail yesterday! God's timing is perfect and it is time to go back and to see what Cameroon brings. The plan is to teach a course on cross cultural relations, based on the genius studies of David Maranz' African Friends and Money Matters and Georgia native Sarah Lanier's Foreign to Familiar. The project in Cameroon has massive potential to grow into a beautiful development model, working alongside the West to bring education, healthcare and food to an area where these are scarce. This course will lay a little foundation for this to grow. 

Years ago I would want to know every detail so that I could see the future of the entire project and would have been fearful to step out into unknown territory and subjects way above my head. But now I have seen the miraculous happen by my just stepping out, completely into the dark and the unknown and in such deep water. I know He holds solutions and answers and has commissioned us to join Him. I see the vision for how development projects can work and bring tangible, sustainable solutions to poverty. I am going to Cameroon to lay groundwork. I am going to teach what I know and see what happens and drink tea with Sherri and dream with God and eat good food and shop the local markets and squeeze babies and attempt to sing amongst the Africans in their powerful, sweet harmony.

I will then go to South Africa for two weeks to view this project. And see their penguins and hike their mountains and eat their food. I will then go to Kenya to stay with Dr. Carola for a week or so in Nairobi. I want to check on her, be with her, spend a little time together, see her face. I will then go volunteer with friends in Mombasa on the coast of Kenya. They started a home for boys in 2007, taking boys off the street and giving them food, shelter and love. I can't believe I actually get to see this project in action. I watched the young girls who started it get in a tiny dusty dilapidated taxi cab with the trunk tied shut in Pemba, Mozambique and drive to Tanzania and later to Kenya to start this ministry. I am honored to be able to meet the boys of Rapha House and to learn from Carly. She is one of my heroes. She has stuck it out. She stayed. She has lasted and done well. I am massively impressed and I want to know her secret. 

On the way home I will spend a few days in DC with Laura before returning home to Nashville. After that I have no clue. Sherri has told me that she throws seed out her back door in Cameroon and it takes root.  I have had multiple confirmations that each destination is strategic. I am going to each place to throw out my seed. It's funny how just our presence in a place changes things. It has nothing to do with me or us but our willingness to act and to move. I often felt the reason I was in Mozambique was to play cards with the other missionaries and make them laugh. I know that I am going to Africa to open doors and windows and create opportunities not just for myself but for others. A missionary friend wrote me this week and told me she had no clue what she was doing. I felt her pain. But I also had to smile as I read her words as know how this position of cluelessness is where I most often see God show up. He swoops down and rescues us and shows us how and we know that it can only be Him, orchestrating it all and whispering His goodness and His secrets in our ears.