SJCHS now has one of the best computer centers in all of Cameroon.
March 13, 2013 at 2:31 pm (Uncategorized)
SJCHS now has one of the best computer centers in all of Cameroon.
January 23, 2013 at 8:10 pm (Uncategorized)
Clearly I wasn’t adding posts as we worked in Bafut. A combination of long, full days and weak Internet (more on that in a minute!) kept me off the blog. So here’s a quick overview, and I’ll supply details and ask my fellow travelers to fill in with their experiences and perspective.
Nov. 18. The A-team (A for Africa, action, awesome!) met in Chicago and managed, despite TSA’s exceptional interest in Tracy and her carry-on luggage) to board a late night flight to Brussels. We were all too excited to sleep much.
Nov. 19. After the transfer and second flight, we arrived in Douala, were met by Sister Olivia and Sister Amelia, gathered our luggage, had dinner, and got settled into the Cardinal’s House for the night. Some of us were exhausted and headed right to bed, but Jeff, Tracy, and a few others went exploring. Luckily it was fairly uneventful.
Nov. 20. The long ride to Bafut kept most of us mesmerized. Not Chinel, though. That girl can sleep better than anyone I know! We arrived at the convent just as it was getting dark. The road was lined with hundreds of students, teachers, sisters, and villagers singing and welcoming us. Later we heard from a young woman from Belgium that she thought the Pope had arrived.
Nov. 21–> 29
Camera 1. Focus on Work
Oh, we worked! We cleaned out and set up the computer room, took several trips into Douala for supplies, exchanged money, negotiated for wireless service, got a dish put in at the school, installed software, ran training sessions for staff and students, and did everything single thing we could think of to make sure the school would be able to use the lab. It was wonderful and exhausting, and through it all, we transformed from a team into a family.
November 17, 2012 at 11:14 pm (Uncategorized)
Tomorrow our group leaves for Cameroon to set up the computer lab at St. Joseph Comprehensive High School in Bafut. Our group: Me, Shellie Moore (my wonderful sister!), Tracy Stockwell from Alverno, Sharyn Warren from Alverno and MSOE, and three MSOE students: Chinel Plunkett, Keenen Quick, and Jeff Hanson. Our mission: To get 34 computers installed and to train the staff and students how to use the hardware and software.
This is possible through the generous donations of many people–from jump drives to mouse pads to laptops to money donated through our link, Cameroon Educational Computer Fund, at the Community Foundation of Central Wisconsin: http://www.cfcwi.org
We’ll post updates while we are there!
August 12, 2012 at 10:32 pm (Uncategorized)
It has been more than a year since Annie and I left Bafut, but those days live in us. There has been so much change for everyone involved. We have lost two very beloved women: Mary Rose, whose experiences were the catalyst for our work at St. Joseph Comprehensive High School, and Sister Angeline, who came to direct the health center in Bafut while we were there.
These two women never met, but their spirits worked together for the same outcome: improving the lives of people in Cameroon. Mary and Sister Angeline were so similar. Mary was American, white, tiny, and a woman of means. She married and raised a beautiful family. She wore the most gorgeousl clothes, had a penthouse condo with a breathtaking view of Milwaukee, and she used her privilege to help others. Sr. Angeline was African, very dark-skinned, substantial in build, and she took a vow of poverty when she took her vows to serve God.
Each of these women had a heart that was matched only by her will and determination. Mary got a dormitory built at SJCHS. Sr. Angeline ran the country’s largest hospital before coming to Bafut. Mary sponsored young women in continuing their education. Sr. Angeline mentored young nurses. Each woman gave everything inside her to leave this world a better place. Annie and I feel so blessed to have known them and shared in their mission, and we grieve the loss while remembering the love.
Although we left Cameroon, it never left us. Now, there is a new project afoot. In November I will return to Bafut with a small group from MSOE. We are taking computers to the school. As of this writing, we have 10 laptops to take, and we are working to collect more. We are also trying to partner with Project CC (www.projectcc.org) to take desktops, and we are trying to raise funds for materials to install a modern, functioning computer center at St. Joseph Comprehensive High School.
I invite anyone who reads this to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a working laptop that you would like to donate, or if you know of any person or organization who may want to help with this mission. The students at SJCHS need to be computer literate in order to realize their potential. Scholarships, college, careers…these all depend on having access to and knowing how to use computers.
I will keep you all posted on the next phase of our work. In the meantime, please consider joining us in our on-going work. Everyone talks about making a difference. SJCHS and the Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis would love to host others to teach at the elementary or high school, volunteer at the health center or Sajocah, or support their work in any way possible. I promise that if you do, it will change your life in ways you cannot imagine, and it will make a difference.
June 7, 2011 at 1:04 am (Uncategorized)
We’ve been home a month now–or a bit more–but Bafut still hovers at the edge of every thought. How do you leave a place and a people who have transformed you? How do you let go of days filled from dawn to dark with purpose? How do you say goodbye to the wisest women in the world without feeling your heart twist into an aching knot?
There were parties for us, presents, cake, tears and hugs and promises to stay friends. There was a hellishly long and hot ride to Douala, the nightmare of checking luggage, more tears at the gate, then a day and a half in a fog of changing time zones, airplane food, babies crying pathetically as their tiny eardrums throbbed and popped, flight attendants passing out juice and earphones and immigration forms, tears and hugs on this end, then a week of not knowing what day or hour it was. Annie stumbled downstairs and asked me what time it was. I said 3:00. She said a.m. or p.m.?
Then there was unpacking, mail sorted, bills paid, gifts given out, stories told, photographs shown, haircuts and hot baths, and emails emails emails from our posse in W. Africa.
And now we are fully back, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. We haven’t heard a cock crow, a goat bleat, or a child yell “White man!” in weeks and weeks. Annie got all 4 wisdom teeth pulled, and S. Prisca emailed “ashia” today.
So how do we keep this alive? Work. Faith. Love. And for me, a belief that I will go back.
I am collecting laptops to refurbish and send to the school. I wrote a grant application to Express Union for the guest house at Sajocah and have started one to the African Development Foundation for the same thing. I have bought computer programs for math, science, history, fashion design, and CAD that I”m sending over. I have a camera for Gladys and another for Jeffrey. I have clothes and purses and sewing notions and many many patterns for Carine and Marbel and the girls.
But no matter what I raise or find or buy or send, nothing will ever come close to repaying the school, St. Joseph Comprehensive High School, or the Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis, for what they gave me. They gave me back belief in my own value, faith in a God who is good, and a heart that allows itself to feel love without fear or panic or regret. Because there is nothing to regret if your heart leads you to a place that needs you and that you need. There is nothing to fear when you know that God has put you in the exact right place at the exact right time, and you accept each challenge that place and time presents with a willing spirit.
The last night at the convent, I told the Sisters that I was not ready to take vows, but that they should know that a Sister lives in my heart and will stay devoted to them and their work. I am truly blessed.
And so it is.
April 2, 2011 at 7:55 pm (Uncategorized)
March 17, 2011 at 1:10 am (Uncategorized)
Click on kribi and sajocah above, at the beginning of this segment, to see the slideshow for this post.
So the last entry was all about the school, but other notable things have happened that all of you (all 12 of you?) might be interested in. Annie and I decided that after 6 weeks we had earned a small vacation. Visiting doctors from Holland were finishing up their week working at SAJOCAH with the children with mental disabilities, and before they flew back they had booked a short stay in Kribi, a coastal town in the south. They offered us a ride down with them, so of course we accepted and began researching the town, hotels, etc. Here is where I throw in a caveat: Trip Advisor is not the most accurate or objective website when it comes to getting information about cities and accommodations. Anyway, we booked a hotel room on-line in a place that promised exceptional facilities, fine dining, cable tv, air conditioning, etc. What we got was a small, rather dingy hotel that smelled like a mixture of fish and sweat and diesel oil. The rooms were not clean, the restaurant had one set menu per day with no vegetarian options (day 1, chicken or fish, day 2, fish or chicken) and the bar had lovely bottles of French wine on display, but what came in the wine glass would have made Ripple look mighty good.
Still, we were at the beach, so we wiped down all wipable surfaces in the room (no toilet seats, and the shower was a nozzle that stuck out of the bathroom wall, tv didn’t work, and the air conditioning was a little tiny wall unit that cooled the room by a few degrees at most), got a bit to eat (warm lettuce browning at the edges, with a few carrot strips and an anemic avocado atop), and went to the beach. This luxury hotel had a few old lounge chairs on the beach. But again, this was the African coast of the Atlantic Ocean. So swimming was a must. Day one we swam about, and the bottom of the ocean was lovely sand–no rocks, plants, or slimy things–and the water was warm. It really was nice. We had a hot and odorous night and went into the town the next day. I am okay with cultural differences. I really do get it that different cultures have different ways of doing and being. But the town was really ramshackle and grimy, and we were charged exorbitant prices and given a terrible exchange rate by the one place that would exchange US money. Most places, including the bank, refused. And nobody takes credit cards. But fortune smiled and a taxi driver took us to a restaurant that served–pizza! We were so happy, and the pizza was good, baked in a wood burning stove (because there was no electricity) with fresh ingredients. We ate a lot, had good beer and even a cocktail after dinner (no electricity = no coffee) and felt pretty fine. The next morning, Annie went in for another dip in the ocean while I read, and moments later she was practically crawling out. She had walked into a jellyfish that stung her about 100 times on her feet, legs, and on her hip. She was in horrible pain; she said her legs felt like they were on fire. Immediately her feet and legs swole up with angry red welts. The people at the hotel were wonderful. They rushed down and tried some local remedies (squeezing a lemon on, rubbing her legs with sand, etc.) but they got worse and worse, she was in so much pain, so someone called the doctor to come. She showed up in about 15 minutes and said we needed to get A. to a hospital. So we went-and I am going to spare you the detailed report of what a small village hospital is like–and another doc gave A. a huge shot of some super steroid. It was a sterile needle; we watched him unwrap it. The steroid started to go into the vein, and within moments Annie was shrieking because she said her brain was doing something horrible. She was shaking and shrieking–her entire body was jerking and she said she her brain and her blood itched terribly. I was terrified. The doctor said it was normal, and it did pass in less than a minute, but by then I was a wreck. Annie, by the way, never got flustered throughout the experience except for the brief steroid incident. Even when her legs and feet burned the worst, she had tears rolling down her face but didn’t lose her cool.
So, we left Kribi as soon as we had paid the hospital (consult, medication, house call all came to about $25.) We made the long, hot hot hot hot drive to Douala where we would spend two nights until the Dutch flew back, then we would make the additional 7 hour ride (hot hot hot!) to Bafut, our home.
The first night in Douala was great. We stayed at the Baptist Guest House. It was clean, the a.c. worked, there was a pool (!!!!) and we even got to watch The Terminator Part III on the tv. We went to a wonderful restaurant with the Dutch and had salad, more pizza (Annie and I had hit our stride) and the 2nd best chocolate mousse I have ever had. A’s legs were better, the swelling was gone, and we were happy. The next day, Sunday, we went back to the same place for lunch, had more good food, and decided to walk to the grocery store and get some bread and cheese and fruit for our room so we would have some food for later in the evening. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon, and we were on the main street in the capital city, full and content. We were walking the 4 blocks to the store, chatting, when a man appeared next to us, demanded that we give him something, and when we said no, yanked the gold necklace I wear (it was my mom’s, and I got it when she died and wear it all the time) right off my neck, giving me a nice little gash on the throat. I was dumbfounded. Twelve years of martial arts, and I couldn’t move because it was MY MOM’S NECKLACE, as I shouted to the guy, who took off running. My wonderful daughter, however, didn’t even blink. She tore after him and grabbed him by the throat, knocking his hat off and slowing him down a bit. He jerked out of her grip, but by then we were both yelling “Stop him! Get him! Thief!” and security men came from all of the stores and restaurants, surrounded him, and got the necklace back. Two of them grabbed Annie by the arms and hustled her back across the. street, almost dragging her. I had mobilized by then and rushed to her, and they just pulled her away and kept her moving away from where the others were doing whatever they do to thieves. They did not want us to see, I guess. Anyway, I told them to let go of her, she was my daughter, and showed them the mark on my neck. They escorted us back towards the Baptist house, but there were other men with them, and we didn’t know if they were security (no uniforms) or the thief’s posse looking to see where we were staying. So we ducked into a very nice hotel and explained to the desk clerk what had happened, and she told us to stay there and got her security man who escorted us back to the Baptist house after he got rid of the lurkers outside.
So, we were thrilled to be back in our own village. We love Bafut–it is like Mayberry in Africa except for the occasional armed thieves at the church. The people here know us–when we walk to school or the market all of the little kids yell White Man! White Man! and point. We know the shoemaker, some of the shopkeepers, the hair stylist Eunice and her husband the drum maker Papa Vicky, the tavern keeper (much fun eating, drinking, and dancing there on the night of International Women’s Day with the teachers from school) and many of the people who live and work in the village. We walk down the dusty red road and are greeted by name. I have taken photos of the locals and given them copies, which has made us popular. Truly, Bafut is a sweet place to be, and once we got back, we thought we would stay here until it’s time to leave in 4 weeks. However, we do plan to visit two other towns, Njunikom and Shisong, before we leave as the Sisters have big communities there and we have heard good things. Many of the Sisters either come from one of those towns or spent years working in the schools or hospital, and they want us to see the places and visit their families. We will probably do that in a week or 10 days as the students will be on Spring break.
So the work continues, the adventure continues, and the temperature continues to rise daily. If I weren’t losing weight already be eating so much healthier and walking all the time, I would be sweating it off. I find that in my mid 50′s, I do not tolerate the heat very well. But the tradeoff is being able to be here, work here, and live in community with possibly the kindest, truest, and most hardworking and generous women I have ever met (excluding my US posse, of course.) This is the experience of a lifetime, and I am grateful every day that with the help of so many others, we made this work happen. I am blessed.
March 11, 2011 at 11:02 am (Uncategorized)
As my lovely sister keeps reminding me, I am long overdue for an update. There is much to write, so I’ll begin with work at the school then go on to the wild action. Preview–again we encounter thievery!
The school continues to do amazing work despite so many roadblocks. On the plant operations side, there are three main variables–water, electricity, and internet. It is a rare day that all three are working. Some very generous people from The Cameroon Fund (shout out to Catherine Procknow and her family, Sharon Malenda, and Mary Rose) had two powerful, gorgeous generators donated and sent funds for the installation, which included constructing a small building that will protect them from the elements. (We had a massive storm last Saturday with high winds and hail stones as big as giant gum balls. The storm took the tin roof entirely off of a local widow’s house. As she and her 3 kids were fleeing the house, the roof landed on all 4 of them and had them pinned down for a long time. There are elements here.)
About 2 weeks ago, everything was finally finished, and in quite a nice ceremonial style, the main generator was turned on. This was not the official unveiling–more of a test run, but it worked, and the teachers and students who had gathered applauded, sang songs, danced a bit (or maybe that was just me) and took photos. It was a terrific day. The following week, all of the circuitry blew. The school’s circuit breakers could not handle the power of the generator, and when they blew, some of the wiring was damaged, and once again, no lights at the school. This was just as students were spending their final evenings studying before this week’s examinations, so of course with no electricity, they studied by flashlight. Can you imagine this?
More electricians came out, and they sank an underground cable and did some other short-term fixes to get the electricity back on, but the school can’t run lights and the water pump at the same time, and the light situation is iffy at best. I had a lovely PowerPoint for a teachers’ meeting, and of course the power went out before we got started, so I did it all from my head.
The estimate to complete the circuit upgrade and to install other electrical things that I don’t quite understand is about $1,100, and there are simply no funds for this at all. I have pledged half of that and am hoping to raise the other half. If any of you who sent messages saying “What can I do to help the school?” are interested in this, let me know. Absolutely any donation at all would be fabulous. Imagine 300 girls living in a dorm with no water or electricity. They get buckets and bottles and fetch water from a pump fed spigot. If the pump doesn’t work, they walk to the village with big water containers on their heads and get water from the hospital or from a stream. The stream is probably a 2 mile walk, most of it over the rough red road then onto a path through the woods. How many US kids would do that for their schools? These girls want an education desperately, so they fetch water.
On the academic side, Annie and I are making some good progress with the girls. One of the things we really want to achieve is a higher level of computer literacy. We take our 3 laptops–two we bought the school and Annie’s Mac (my Vaio blew out the first week)–to our classroom and have girls work individually and in small groups creating different things–PowerPoint presentations, Publisher stuff, and Word docs. Their typing is completely hunt and peck, so we have been working on keyboarding skills. In the computer room, which is a partially underground cement block room and also our classroom, there are about 18 computers. Maybe five work, and of those five, two have an ancient version of MS Word. So we use the three laptops, the two school computers, an old computer keyboard I found, and two absolutely ancient and lovely manual typewriters I rescued from a discard pile and restored, somewhat. This required sending a student, Sally, to fetch water from the pump, and soaking the ribbons to try to bring a little ink back to life. Anyway, we had a good keyboarding session today, with girls learning how to use both hands to type, and practicing the ABCs. All of the girls skipped lunch (which is at the end of the school day) to stay and type. We kept telling them to go eat, but they kept saying, “No, we want to learn!”
With the teachers, I have been giving one or two seminars a week on teaching strategies and learning styles. I used David Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory (a short, modified version of it) and had the teachers take it. Then we talked about the characteristics of their dominant learning styles and how those relate to how they teach, and what types of learners in their classes they are most effective with. Again, many A ha! moments. We also did a bit on right and left brain thinking/processing, Toohey’s learning cycles, Dale’s Active and Passive learning pyramid, and we did some fun activities. Everyone had to 1.) make a pin wheel without directions, and at a later meeting 2.) create a chart, graph, or diagram of their approach to teaching.
I thought one teacher was going to cry. She buried her face in her hands and shook her head. When I asked what was wrong, she said, “I am not teaching some of my students well!” That took some processing, as you can imagine. But no matter what I said about teaching as a process, etc., she felt bad because she recognized that her “stand and deliver” style isn’t working for those right brain students and isn’t fostering real retention. She wants me to come to her class and tape her teaching so we can work on some strategies for, as Kolb puts it, “teaching around the cycle.” While I hate to traumatize the people I’m working with, I am thrilled!
Finally, we have had a breakthrough in another area. The two academic deans, at the urging of the head of the English Language Department, are going to let us mess up the schedule so I can have some 1/2 day blocks of time to work with each grade level on writing skills. This has been such a hit or miss thing here because Annie and I have just had the study hall times to work, and students are not required to stay in during that time. Also, we are using that for a lot of the art and creative writing projects related to leadership, along with teaching the girls the basic computer skills. So to get good chunks of time will be absolutely wonderful. The English teachers want to sit in on those, and that is ideal as we can do some team teaching.
So our work is going well. There are struggles every day, or perhaps challenges is a better word, but there are great rewards. I love this work, this time, this school, and the Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis (known as the Shisong Sisters as they were all trained in Shisong) who created this school and work so hard to keep it running. I have great respect and fondness for the teachers who set high standards, work with so so so little, and still educate the girls well. Annie and I recently discovered, when they took us out to a local bar for International Women’s Day, that they are a lot of fun and can sing and dance like Bafut rock stars. It was great fun to be with them as they let their hair down and got loose. Annie and I may have done a little of that too.
Okay, another entry coming that is all about the social / personal side of things.
JNM–or Mama Jill as I am referred to, when I am not being called Sister or Auntie.
February 19, 2011 at 10:42 am (Uncategorized)
Dateline: Bafut Mambo February 19.
The last 1/2 hour was the most fascinating we’ve had. It’s Sat. and Annie and I took the dvd Planet Earth series and the projector up to the dorms and showed two segments–one on the ocean and the other on the rainforests and tropical jungles. (Last night we showed Jurassic Park.) I was sitting with two girls from Form 6 (high school seniors) who kept pointing out to each other things they had read about in Biology / Geography class. Our movies are a success so far.
We packed up and hiked back down the road to the main road to the convent and ran into a man we met earlier outside the Yankee Experimental Shop. He is quite old, claims to be a prince, and is very social, smiling and greeting us and shaking hands whenever we see him.Today he was wearing an embroidered and faded pink traditional ankle-length gown with a black braided Muslim-style cap. Slung over his back was the most amazing handmade instrument. It looks like a wooden baseball cap with various sticks coming out of the end of the bill, and there are thin wires tied to the end of the sticks and attaching to the bottom of the cap (on the open side, not the round side.) Annie has seen these before and asked him where to get one. He said he could get one for us, then he played it and sang the most wonderful version of two hymns in a sort of pop-meets-carribean sound, like the version of Over The Rainbow/Wonderful World from 50 First Dates. He seemed delighted to have an audience, and he sang quite sweetly.
Did I have my camera? No.
After talking with him and giving him 150 francs, we resumed our trek back to the convent, got about 10 yards, and heard squealing and running behind us. People were spilling onto the main road (which would be equivalent to one of the roughest and rockiest logging roads in the U.S.) from a small path that goes into the back village.
We were near the gates of Sajocah across from the convent. One of the men in the road said, “The Juju is coming!” A few seconds later, two Jujus leapt onto the road. One looked like someone from a bad old African movie–bare chest painted red and black, face painted white, a loin cloth, a big feathered headress, and a long spear. He stopped in the middle of the road, threw back his head and spit out a cloud of something white–like smoke but more textured. People were running away in every direction, screaming.
Then the second Juju came. He had what looked like painted burlap bags on his head and body, and wore some sort of wooden death mask. Both Jujus danced wildly, throwing their arms about and running at people. More shrieking and squealing and running people streamed down onto the road, keeping a wide berth around the Jujus. The few cars on the road stopped to give the Jujus plenty of space. I had no idea what was happening (can still hear the shouts now that I’m in my room.)
One of the men outside of Sajocah told us that this was part of a death ceremony. The Jujus come down to scare the evil spirits away from the dead and his family, using their magic powers. They run through the village of the deceased and chase people all the way to the site of the burial ceremony. If they don’t, there will be a curse on the survivors, which will be passed down in the family.
If a Juju catches you, he will “flog about” you with his stick/spear, which he has treated with some kind of substance so that when he lands a blow, your skin swells painfully and burns. There is no point in going to a doctor or hospital; they have no cure. The only treatment is to get a goat or a fowl and present it to the Juju, who then will rub the antidote onto the welts.
For foreigners like us, if the Juju gets near because we are clueless and didn’t run (and believe me, I was prepared to hustle my white butt to the convent at breakneck speed if one of the Jujus had turned towards us) we need to bend down low and keep our eyes to the ground, and he might not “flog about” us.
It was so wonderful and frightening in a thrilling sort of way to see this. The Jujus and village people have probably made it to the site of the death celebration nearby, so I expect to hear gunshots this evening and well into the tonight.
We have learned that these guns do not have real bullets (or whatever old rifles take.) They are fired in honor of the deceased and, I think, to keep evil spirit away. I know they keep me at a safe distance.
I mean really–we are walking down a red dirt road after watching a BBC documentary, and genuine African Jujus leap out onto the road spitting smoke and waving spears. This does not happen on N. 53rd St. And of course, as I said, I did not have my gorgeous, high tech camera with hd video capacity. Bah!!!
Have I mentioned that I really love it here?
February 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm (Uncategorized)
I wanted adventure, but this may have been pushing it just a bit.
Last night after dinner, the Sisters, Annie, and I were sitting around in the dining area, working on the jigsaw puzzle A and I brought. The tv was on, some Sisters were on cell phones, and it was very relaxed and chatty. Then one sister said, “Hush! I hear something. Turn off the television.” Someone did, then we all heard the shriek of an alarm. The Sisters all ran outside because it was coming from the parish up the hill,The Sisters knew immediately that the parish was in trouble. Then we heard gunshots and people shouting from every direction.
The parish is atop a small hill and consists of the church, the primary school, the residence of the priest, Father Gregorio, and a small center where the Brothers who are in training live and study. The parish is surrounded by fields and trees, red dirt trails roads leading up, one rutted and narrow road that goes right to the church, and a graveyard that spreads downhill behind it. Although it is only a ten minute walk from the convent and the village, it is not visible.
The Sisters had cell phones out, calling the priest and other people nearest the parish. One of the sisters called our high school and instructed our friend Carin, who lives at the school and oversees the dorms, to get every girl inside and lock all of the iron gates leading in. Another Sister got through to someone from the village who said that armed thieves had Father Gregorian, a visiting priest, and the young Brothers surrounded in the priest’s house and were trying to force the door open. Sr. Celestine told us that the priests and Brothers would all be killed if the thieves got in. The Sisters were terrified, trying desperately to get word about the priests and Brothers.
Then we heard screams from our high school, which is atop another hill on the other side of the convent. Annie and I wanted to run up there, but the Sisters had locked all of the gates in the wall surrounding the convent.
By then, we were all in the courtyard, which is at the center of the Convent and enclosed by the Sisters’ quarters, the guest rooms where Annie and I sleep, the chapel, and the kitchen/dining room and the laundry room. The courtyard was well-lit by a nearly full moon. Sisters were calling the police at several stations, the priests at other nearby parishes, and people they knew near the parish. Sr. Celestine, Superior of the convent, kept trying the priest’s phone but didn’t get an answer.
We stood in the courtyard for about 45 minutes, listening to occasional gunshots and the shouts of mobs from every direction. A skinny black dog dashed through the courtyard, making us all jump. He had belly crawled through the drainage pipe that leads outside. He did mad circles around the courtyard, but no one dared open a gate for him to get out.
Finally one of the Sisters got someone else on the phone and learned that the priest had heard a car drive up a few minutes earlier while he and the others were cleaning up from dinner. He went out to see who was there, and the visiting priest and Brothers followed. Two men were standing in the yard, saying they had been sent from Bamenda. When Fr. Gregorio approached, they drew their guns and shot into the air to show that the guns were loaded. The visiting priest and Brothers ran to the house and sounded the alarm. Fr. Gregorio punched one the thieves, knocking him down, and five other men with guns got out of the taxi (!) Father Gregorio ran to the house, followed by one of the thieves who had his gun out. Father G. managed to jump the fence around his home and make it inside, with the others.
Finally everything quieted down, and we opened the gate to the road and saw villagers with machetes, sticks, and guns. One was a former student at the high school, and the sisters called her over. She recounted the entire scene, how as soon as the villagers heard the parish alarm, they grabbed whatever they could use a weapons, and ran up the hill to help the priests. “There was not a body in the village,” she said. She was out of breath, extremely agitated, and was waving her machete (“cutlass”) as she spoke. “Even the grandmothers came with sticks,” she said. She had put her baby down to go outside and pee when she heard the alarm. She grabbed her cutlass and ran with the others, who poured in from every direction. Others ran to the school and surrounded it in case any of the thieves were headed there. Still others made blockades in the road (human blockades) so the thieves couldn’t escape.
The thieves heard the villagers shouting, and the taxi driver, who was in on the robbery, jumped in the car and sped off. Somehow he got out of Bafut despite the blockades. The other thieves ran through the graveyard and disappeared into the countryside. No one was caught.
This morning Fr. Gregory told the entire story at mass and said that one group of police arrived at midnight (this all happened between 8-9 p.m. and another group came at 2 a.m. People felt that was okay as the police are sometimes in on the robberies. There was speculation that this may have been why they took so long showing up, but no one can say. At school today, many of the students were tired and crabby because they hadn’t slept at all. While I tried not to be crabby, I was one of the tired ones who tossed and turned a good part of the night.
So, life in Bafut, Mambu, continues to be interesting. I wish I had seen the villagers en masse charging up the hill from every direction. When I think of their courage and their dedication to the priest and parish, and when I think of Fr. Gregorio knocking down an armed man to keep him out of the parish house, I am nearly speechless. Would this happen in the U.S.? I wonder. I’ve been told several times today that no stranger will make it into Bafut Mambu without every eye on him. Tonight I feel very safe here with the Sisters, and I am so proud of our neighbors and friends.