Sunday, January 27, 2008

Kissed by the Devil

Well, it was not as extreme as that title sounds, but I knew it would get your attention :)

The pilot, Gary, and his family decided to move from Cameroon, out here to Tchad and settle in our little village of Bere for a while. Some of us went to meet the plane as Gary brought part of their things to move in. Soon the plane had landed and we started helping him unload into the hospital truck. The crowd of kids and curious onlookers grew to a sea of black faces. As a couple men acted as guards with sticks to keep people away from the plane, Sonya and I had fun pretending to walk through the Red Sea (actually brown sea). We'd walk straight through the crowd that would part perfectly on both sides with everyone staring & avoiding touching us.

As we finished covering the plane, though, we noticed that we were no longer the main entertainment. A little ways away, the crowd had gathered around a woman who seemed to be acting quite strangely. Whatever she was doing was making everyone erupt into laughter, and though I was curious, we continued with the truck over to the house that Gary was moving into.

We carried boxes and bags full of rice and other essentials back and forth from the truck to the house. While waiting for Gary to finish checking everything out, Sonya, James, and I hung around outside. The crowd had continued on over to us and soon the lady that had entertained everyone at the plane, was again center of attention right in front of us. She was gesturing wildly while yelling out a constant stream of words, apparently funny, to the crowd. Soon she was throwing herself all over the place, on the ground, running at people and then very rudely dancing at the delight of everyone.

I watched her strange jerky movements, confused, until James mentioned that she was acting like the demon-possessed patients he's had come to the hospital. I disgustedly looked away as she singled out Tony, the guard, and half pulled her shirt off while dancing practically on top of the poor guy cornered against a wall. But then, almost returning to normal, she walked over to us and stuck her hand out to James. He took it and she shook hands with him quite vigorously. When she then stepped in front of me, I figured there was no harm in greeting her like James had.

As I grabbed hold of her outstretched hand, suddenly I felt myself being jerked towards her. With surprising strength, and quicker than a blink, she had grabbed the back of my head with her free hand and aimed for a straight-on kiss. Just in time, I moved my head enough to receive the loud smack on my cheek. She jerked my head around and tried again, but this time I got a hand up to block it and pushed her away with the help of James pulling her off. Bewildered and a bit shaken, I looked up to see the crowd laughing hysterically. So I shrugged my shoulders and smiled, figuring a little love never hurts anyone.

We tried to ignore the woman after that, as the crowd dispersed and she hung around the truck with us. As I rested my arms on the side of the truck and talked to Sonya, I noticed she was right across from me copying my movements. Only she moved at the exact same time as I did, staring straight at me.

As we finally left, I laughed with everyone else, although it was quite unnerving to me. These people are caught up in such a terrible, tangible battle between God and Satan. But, they don't see it when the master deceiver makes it funny to them, interesting to try, and pleasurable.

Monday, January 21, 2008

It is Well

January 21

.... When peace like a river attendeth my way
.... When sorrow like sea billows roll
.... Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
.... It is well, it is well, with my soul

The words of this old hymn really hit me hard last night. Whatever my lot, especially in Africa right now, God has taught me to say, "It is well, with my soul." It is my choice whether to believe in His faithfulness and say them. Even if my conflicting emotions say different, it is what I know to be true that matters...It is well.

I got home from Cameroon and headed to work to see all the patients that came in while we were gone. One was an old man who got too close to the fire to warm himself. Half his skin was severely burned along his back, chest, neck and one arm. It brought tears to my eyes to see everyone avoid him like the plague while his wife led him bent & stinking, rasping for air, covered in flies, inside for his dressing change. The nurses stood as far away from him as possible while gingerly picking his bandages off without touching a hair on his head.

I finally couldn't stand to see the poor man alone, naked for all to see as they passed, swaying back & forth with no support. So I sat down next to him and cradled the side of his body with the least burns against me. Immediately he leaned hard onto me, clasping my hand with his swollen one, and turning to muffle his agonizing cries into my chest. As the burn ointment, mingled with blood & pus ran down over both of us, I stroked his head with my free hand, whispering to him in English, and wishing I could bear just some of his pain. His rasping screams felt like they were coming straight from my own heart.

The injustice of the situation sprang open in my mind. All the special procedures for burn patients in the States...and this man in Africa, dealing with raw indescribable pain constantly, in a place reeking with infection, with barely a few ibuprophen pills to stem the pain a notch. "God, why such suffering to the undeserving?!"

As the man sobbed onto my scrubs, tears soaking in, I let my chin rest onto his head and glanced up. "No, God, You are faithful and holding this man closer than I am. It is all in Your hands...It is well.

Some of you have been asking how I'm doing and all I can say is, God has taught me to say, "It is well, it is well, with my soul."

Sunday, January 20, 2008


January 16
So Hans and I are suffering from a bad strain of Giardia. It is an awful parasite that I deem worse than malaria. Half of the problem is the medicine for it, my most hated: metronidazole. It is a nasty, despicable, incredibly awful yellow pill that I have to take 8 of at once for three days. I can be feeling fairly ok, despite the ongoing diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. Then I take my metronidazole dose...Aah!!! The nausea goes on and on so that I can't even sleep at night, sometimes ending in finally throwing up. It leaves a nasty bitter, yellow taste in my mouth constantly and drains me of all energy. Thankfully I took my last dose today, so I should be feeling better in a couple days. I just warn you to never, Never, NEVER!!!! get Giardia or any kind of bug that requires taking metronidazole to get rid of it!

Well, there aren't very many diseases left for me to get here. I've only had malaria twice, while poor Sonya has suffered from it every month. Never take for granted your health! It is a wonderful thing to be healthy; something we all enjoy here when we have it, since it gets taken from us so often.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Travels of Hans and His 3 Wives

December 28

There is nothing more certain to be unpredictable than traveling in Africa. Sonya, Liz, Hans, and I headed off for Cameroon the day after Christmas, in hopes of making it to the Koza Adventist Hospital that evening. Before we even left, troubles began. Well, I shouldn't call them troubles because changes and different circumstances tend to make life more exciting. We had hoped to leave by 6 o'clock in the hospital truck which would take us through Kelo, on to Bangor, a border town. However, Liz and Sonya had worked that night and their replacement did not show up on time. While we waited, the truck driver decided that the oil filter needed to be changed. While we waiting for him to finish, Andre, the hospital administrator, decided he needed to go to Moundou, the opposite direction from Bangor.

Eventually we got underway around 8 o'clock with the driver, Andre, the 4 of us, Gary (in case the truck broke down along the way), and George, who wanted to just ride along for fun and visit some markets. We had hardly passed the river when we came upon a whole group of hippos lounging around by some water! Being the first time we've seen some here in Tchad, we excitedly jumped out to take some pictures by the water's edge. A man tried to convince us to get closer in his canoe, but seeing it was half-filled with water and remembering the fates of some people that ended up at our hospital, we decided to continue to look from a distance. Gary acted as tour guide, informing us on many interesting facts about hippos (sometime, ask me how they poop), and then we were on our way once more.

Once we bumped and lurched into Kelo, we headed to the post office to pick up packages! Piling them into the back of the truck and telling George to guard them with his life, the 4 of us headed off to find public transportation while the hospital truck continued on to Moundou for Andre.

Lucky for us, a "bus" was almost filled for Bangor. We took the last 4 seats on a bench facing backward, squished behind the driver seats, expecting to leave any moment. Now I must describe this "bus" to you. It is about the size of a van with racks on top to carry luggage. They add a bench behind the driver where we sat and a long seat in the back where the trunk is. The goal is to fit as many people as possible in order to make the most money possible. Besides looking like a piece of junk patched together on the outside, everything is stripped off the inside leaving just the metal frame of the bus and seats. Pieces of molding foam were hanging off the ceiling, and windows were smashed out, leaving just tape covering them.

Eventually they were ready to go and attempted to shut the side door by Liz. While trying to jerk it closed, the top runner came out, the only part connecting the door to the bus. They put it back in, but could only get the door half closed, where they tied it with a rubber strap. Then came the problem of getting the bus started. We could hear the engine grunting and hissing, but not starting. A bunch of people outside started pushing us down the road, faster and faster, but still it wouldn't start. We rolled to a stop and the 4 of us were asked to get out so that they could get to the engine under us. The engine finally roared to life and we all scrambled back in quickly as they took off.

We got a good breeze from the open door for the 3-hr. trip. Sitting facing everyone, we felt like the travel entertainment. It wasn't very far into the trip that we realized how much we looked like Hans' three wives since it isn't uncommon in this culture to have many wives. This was confirmed many times when people asked us if he was our husband. I always just answered, "yes," figuring they'd mess with us less if they thought we "belonged" to him as the culture sees it.

Rumbling into Bangor, we made a quick jump onto some motos waiting and headed for the border. We stopped to register at a customs building, hoping we could actually go across the border. We assumed we'd have to buy visas for about a week, but who knows how much they would try to charge us, or if it was even possible. It ended up going very well. Elise, the lady we went to talk to, was very friendly. She was excited to hear we were from the Bere Adventist Hospital and gave us her address and number so that she could have a hospital built in her village. She stamped our passports and charged us only 1000 CFA each, about 2 dollars. Excited over how well it went, we were off again.

Our motos stopped again by a building saying we needed to check in there too. We could see Cameroon, just across a river. Going in to see the military men, we figured it would be a quick stop since we'd worked everything out at the last place. The man looked at our stamps, questioned us a little and waved us on, but as we walked out, an Arab man stopped us asking for our passports. We know not to just give them out to any military man, because the government is corrupt and many will make you pay to get them back. I only brought my passport and visa copies for the trip instead of my original since Gary had told me that was all that was needed. So we refused to give the man our passports and tried to leave. He was persistent, though, and kept asking, grabbing Hans' arm to get him to stay. Hans told him we had already been cleared, but the man became irate. He yelled at Hans and Hans yelled back for a while until I was tempted to just run across the border and leave the screaming man :)

He started telling us that he was with some anti-espionage group and that we were American spies. We wanted to laugh at that, but he was serious. (You know our favorite thing to do is go to Cameroon to set bombs and spy on their amazing military techniques to take back to the States!) Eventually the man we had checked-in with came out and told us that we couldn't leave and needed to be questioned by this man. Hans acted very mad, because usually if you push & bluff your way around, they lay off, but this man was very adamant that we were spies. They took Hans over to a grass shack with a bunch of men while Liz, Sonya, and I waited by the road.

We waited and waited, hearing a very heated conversation going on in the hut. We prayed constantly for Hans, hoping they wouldn't take any of his stuff or charge him an exorbitant amt. of money. After an hour, he came out, looking quite shaken and walked over to us quietly saying, "I don't want to get shot here. Give me your passports." We quickly handed them over and watched him walk back, realizing possible more was at stake than our money and belongings. Not too much later, he came striding out, telling us to quickly get our stuff together. We quickly hoofed it down to the river and crossed the border in a canoe before they changed their minds.

Hans relayed all that had happened. The Arab man kept screaming at him constantly that we were spies and Americans are horrible...on and on. Hans said he looked like he wanted to kill him. Hans explained what we were doing in Tchad & Cameroon and that he had #s for the doctors at both hospitals to confirm if needed. They argued continually and then eventually said they wanted to interrogate us girls one by one. Hans wisely played off of their Muslim beliefs and told them that he was responsible for us. It wouldn't be expected of their woman to appear in front of strange men alone. They could talk to him in regard to us. They agreed and that's when he came to get our passports.

Relieved to finally be across, we made it through the Cameroon registration points fairly easy. Amazing that we were allowed to travel in Cameroon with no visas, just a stamp saying we were leaving Tchad & entering Cameroon! Greg says most of the military men can't read well enough to tell. You could put any stamp on a paper and call it something without them knowing the difference.

We found a driver to take us into Yagoua to catch a bus to Maroua. We looked out, amazed at the difference from Tchad. So many nice houses and power lines! We had to wait 4 hrs. for a bus to finally come to take us to Maroua. We got there at 11 pm and proceeded to try and find a place to stay the night. Greg had arranged for us to stay at the Baptist Mission after hearing we'd be late, but there was some confusion and they wanted 15000 CFA! Thirty dollars for just 6 hours of sleep. So we ended up staying on the floor of a room in YaYa's house. A man Greg arranged to pick us up at the bus station.

It was a sleepless night with lots of mosquitoes. We were up early and on our way on another bus to Mokolo. It is so beautiful in Cameroon with mountains and agriculture. In Mokolo, we jumped on some motos for the last leg of our journey to Koza (after negotiating the price for a while). It was a fun trip up and over mtns. into the town of Koza. We arrived at the hospital by 9:30 that morning, seeing Audrey & Greg running out to meet us. Time for a vacation...


December 25

This year was lacking a bit in the cinnamon smells, colorful lights, cold snowy days, and family visiting that usually accompanies Christmas. Nevertheless, we did our best here in dry, hot Africa, to create a little of the Christmas spirit.

Liz and I, both coming from families that faithfully tromp out to find the best pine-smelling tree every year, were adamant that we needed a Christmas tree. So the two of us headed out one evening in December to find something that would suffice. Our rules were that it had to at least have the promise of being slightly green and had to be able to hold ornaments. Armed with a bucket, shovel, and saw, we marched out into the bush, carefully scanning anything that grew above the ground. After weaving our way around all the squatting people taking a dump out in the fields, we finally picked the lucky bush. From far away, it could almost be mistaken as holly. Soon we had sawed it off, collecting extra pieces for a wreath and headed home, triumphant.

Despite the skeptic looks of Hans, Sonya, & James, we set it upright in a basket filled with dirt and began decorating with colorful little ornaments sent by Liz's family, while Christmas music played in the background, hot chocolate was made, and candles lit.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we watched the classic, "It's a Wonderful life," and constantly played all the holiday music we had. Eventually our tree had to be replaced with a new one, since it died. So we cut down a bush that more resembled a pine tree, although it had 2-inch thorns sticking out everywhere.

On the 23rd, we held a Christmas party for the hospital staff. Sonya made a huge batch of delicious peanut butter cookies and juice, and we showed "The Nativity Story" after the generator came on.

On Christmas Eve, after work, we had a big dinner together with all the "white people" in Bere. It was a feast compared to what we usually eat and a great time to relax and enjoy each other's company. Everyone brought a white-elephant gift (I wrapped mine with mango leaves), and proceeded with exchanging gifts. The favorites were Sweet Pea lotion and chocolate!

Christmas Day wasn't very enjoyable for me. I worked and was sick with what I later found out was strep throat. After work, I ended up sleeping most of the evening and wishing I could be home.

The next morning, we headed off for Cameroon on vacation which is its own story...
Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!

La Clase de Espanol de Milo

December 14

Wow! You buys are amazing. I just received your letters last night and once I realized what they were, I felt like I held a treasure box in my hands. It is so easy to feel separated and like I'm just writing blindly. It's encouraging to know my blogs are somewhat of an inspiration when many times, here, I feel useless. Just a couple days ago we had a little kid come in with malaria, but the parents refused to pay for hospitalizing him. They took him to the traditional "healers" instead who made cuts all over his stomach and other rituals with promises to cure him. Today they returned, with the boy convulsing. I've spent all day pleading with them to buy meds. for him, and each time they finally do buy one dose, they act as if I'm cheating them out of their money. They don't believe that there is any other reason for me to be here except to make money off of them. Late this afternoon, the boy died, proving to them, that they paid for nothing. And I feel like I failed again.

I must say that any inspiration you get from my experiences are not from me, but are glimpses of God working in my life & in Tchad. Many times I feel weak, discouraged, and not trusting of Him, but He works through the least of us. Don't think (like I used to), that you have to reach a certain level spiritually with God to be used by Him in great ways. Just be willing to relinquish control of your life and say, "God, use me."

Nothing will be the same...imagine if you are tapping into the strength, love, & character of God, where is the limit??!
Then as He uses you, despite your limitations & shortcomings, to touch other people's lives & fulfill His purpose, the most incredible part happens ~ While working through you, He works in you.

Hmm...hope I'm not getting too carried away :) When I write, it kind of sorts out all my own thoughts. Well, I hope you all have a great Christmas and keep up with the Espanol! I was thinking I should write part of this in Spanish for you guys, but every time I tried to think of something, only French came up in my mind. Aah!! It's taking over. You all need to write me some Spanish quick!

Thank you again! I have your letters hanging up all over my hut walls.