Cameroon, Africa

April 11, 2009
By Laura Knizley BRONZE, Mobile, Alabama
Laura Knizley BRONZE, Mobile, Alabama
1 article 1 photo 0 comments

This past year, June 5-17, I went to Kumba, Cameroon. We did this on a mission trip to help the people of the peaceful country. It was one of the best experiences I have ever had. Our team of 19 consisted of Laura (me), Elizabeth, Chris, Susie, Connie, Pat, David, Andrew, Jim, Scott, Courtney, Cindy, Andrea, Paige, Jan, Sandy, Brian, Donna, and Mary Robin. We went through labor and vacation bible school, experience and an interesting return home.

Our mission was to “help with whatever they needed”. In the beginning, it was a church of some sort, and that’s all we knew about it. Our fearless leader, Pat, surprisingly settled for something so unclear. We arrived after a total of 20 hours of flying. For the first two days, we stayed in a mission house in Beau, Cameroon. It was more of a “luxury” town. We went to the beaches and the zoo and just relaxed. Nights were horrible for me, I missed home and my mom snored too loud for me to sleep. Plus, we were six hours ahead of Mobile. The third day we arrived in Kumba. A long bumpy bus ride through the dirt roads of Cameroon changed my life forever. We saw tattered and torn roofs of small huts these people used as houses. I thought started to worry about what exactly this town would be like, could I handle this? Was this going to break my heart everywhere I looked? We finally arrived at our “mission house”. It was like a hotel, we had keys and two small beds per room, with one bathroom. I roomed with Elizabeth, one of my best friends. We conned our barely friends mothers to room together because of our fear of homesickness. The next morning, we awoke to finding out we had no plan. The church we were supposed to build didn’t exist, there were no permits. We had no idea what to do, so our contact in America’s brother, JJ, told us we could probably assist at a hospital clinic a few miles down the road. We arrived there and talked with a white American who worked there, Dr. Blough. He moved from America a few years before, and worked with the Cameroonians for barely any price. He was the weirdest, nicest man I’ve ever met. Since we were in the first carload, Courtney, Mary Robin and I were assigned to the baby ward. We walked in, and since we were white, the woman who delivered the babies decided we were American doctors. She tried to teach us how to deliver babies, when we tried to explain we were not doctors. Eventually, she realized it from our being so naïve about what she was doing. She let us just hang out with the just delivered mothers in the ward. We chatted with each of them, and realized these people were the happiest people in the world, given their conditions. I was awed by them. One woman I was speaking to just had two premature twins. Two girls. I asked what their names would be, she said “Mary and Laura”. I asked why and she told me Mary, because it was her mother’s name, and Laura because it was my name. I was shocked. These people thought we were saints, but what were we even doing right now? Socializing? Later in the day, Elizabeth, sixteen years old, was begged by a woman to take her child with her. Elizabeth was stuck in an awkward situation and had no idea how to handle it, I mean what do you say to someone begging you to take their child from them? At that point, I decided even though they are happy with their lives, they love their children enough to want them to live the American Dream. We continued to help out around the clinic for the rest of the day, i.e. socialize and a few actually did tasks needed. They were just ecstatic we were there. We couldn’t really figure out why God called us to that clinic. The next day, half the group went to the clinic to do a “vacation bible school” for the children. My half, the “work team”, went to the hospital (not the clinic), to clean a bathroom. We thought, “no big deal”, it’s just a bathroom. The actual restroom was repulsive. It looked as though it hadn’t been cleaned in years. It smelled like rotten eggs, and we looked at the toilets to try to figure them out for a while, until a girl used one. It was a small hole in the ground, no toilet paper, no anything. There was excretion all over their walls. We scrubbed and mobbed and cleaned again and again. We transformed the bathroom. When all was finished, Courtney and I were assigned to the showers. The same situation, there was a toilet in the back and a shower in the front of a 4 foot by 4 foot room. We cleaned and cleaned in there too, getting nasty water and such all over our shoes, and she had on crocs. That night we noticed some construction going on right outside our house. We found out it was going to be the national “youth house” of Cameroon. The work crew started on it the next day. It was a hot and draining job, but we did it every bit for God. Throughout the next few days, we tried to teach them how we make cement. But we couldn’t, it was their way or the highway. We learned neat things like, how they call dirt, “earth”. After laying the slab, we wrote bible verses in it with sticks, letting the building build off of our scripture. The vacation bible school changed locations to the hospital, in a big field. I went to that instead of work the first half of the day I think twice. We taught fun songs, but they also taught us songs. We played soccer with them and many sorts of games. They were the happiest most precious children ever. The thing about them was that, an American toddler will fall down and cry for hours even if it didn’t hurt, these kids would fall face first in the dirt and get right back up to play again. We fell in love with them. The last day we washed all of our clothes in sinks that we were leaving for the Cameroonians. We then cleaned and started on our way home.

We had interesting experiences in this beautiful, exuberant country. While in Beau, we went to an all girls boarding school. Also, went to a gorgeous black sand beach. And a zoo. But the most interesting experience in Beau was our first church service. My group went to a large Presbyterian church, to find out it was the one of the high class people. Every woman wore brightly colored outfits and sang loudly. They got up and danced around the church, for everything. A song we heard then and many times after was their version of “May You Really Be Blessed”. It choked me up. They were in love with God, every one of them. We saw another white lady up in the women’s group that was being inducted. At the beginning of the service we chatted with her for a bit, and she had moved from America two years ago, and couldn’t bear to leave. Everyone there loved her just as she loved them. It amazed me that she left everything she had to live here. Our entire experience with the “no plan” problem, was truly an act of God. We had no idea why we were even there, but we just had to put it in his hands. And he then led us to the clinic. One of our drivers in Kumba, Stanley, invited us to his house one day. We met his wife or fiancé, I never figured it out. He later had either a wedding or engagement party, which few of us attended. Everyone was strikingly hospitable. That same day, the bathroom cleaning day, I met a woman who was a hard working mother, caring more about her children and God than anything else. Something about her reminded me of my boyfriend’s mother, who had given me a small bible to give away. I decided to give it to this woman, because it was so weird that it must have been God. The biggest thing for me was on Friday, June 13th. I was working on construction, picking up a board, and a grabbed two boards instead of one. I thought it was just heavy and shook it a little, when the board behind it which was connected to it fell and a nail penetrated and slid down my left calf. I barely even felt it, and Chris looked at it and said, “Hey Laura, you’re bleeding.” I looked down, thinking it was just a puncture wound. I told my mom and she made me go put medicine on it. Pat poured some alcohol on it and it appeared to be about a six inch long scrape. It was about ¼ of an inch deep. He then put some orange stuff on it, like Iodine but different. We asked JJ if we were okay about it, and he advised us to go down to the clinic. We rode over there, and arrived to see Dr. Blough. This must have been God’s reasoning for the clinic, we wouldn’t have trusted this place without our familiarity with it. He was shocked at how “extensive” it was, and never shut up about it. He was so funny. “ I didn’t realize how extensive this was! But it’s not superficial!”, his phrase of the day. They pulled out what seemed sterile, a shot. It was a Tetanus Booster. With Pat holding my hand and my mom watching carefully, they doctored it with more stinging painful things. There was no way my mom was going to let them stitch it up, not here. They “slapped a maxi pad on it”, in the words of Courtney, and told me not to get the water in it. I just decided I wasn’t going to shower for the remaining few days. My mother and my small group leader and lifetime friend, Mrs. Jan, wouldn’t allow that. Mrs. Jan put a plastic bag and duct tape to my life, water proof-Cameroonian Style. We visited the most beautiful lake ever, the last day, Crater Lake. It was a gorgeous, crater-created hole. With cliffs and tons of forest around it, it was a true spiritual experience, just to see it. Only God could have created such a thing. JJ, who had become a best friend of Andrew, our team member who was his roommate, took us to his home in Beau on the way to the airport. We ate food and just hung around his home. His family was extremely hospitable and sweet. We then set on our way for the airport.

Before the six hour drive back to Doula, we experienced a bit of a robbery. JJ was driving a few people in his small white Toyota truck. A man claimed he saw Mrs. Sandy, a very sweet member of the team, take a photo of him. He demanded either her memory card or money. They paid him some money and he left them alone. He paid another visit later on, demanding more money or he would kill JJ. Again, they paid him, and the police explained even they couldn’t catch him. He was such a contrast to the average Cameroonian, even the police couldn’t understand how someone could be so terrible. Imagine that in America, huh? Finally arriving at the airport, one injured member and one getting over a stomach virus, we were told our 10:45 pm flight to Paris, was cancelled. We might be able to get a flight at 11:40 am. They provided no transportation or housing, ironic because this was the European and American section of the airport. A few cried, a few stressed on the phone, and most were just extremely irritable. We ended up sleeping on the floor of the Doula airport. Elizabeth’s mother, Mrs. Susie, read a bible verse about patience. We all then had to just relax and let God handle it. We wouldn’t get home until we were patient. We all cracked jokes and laughed the rest of the night. We got on a plane the next morning at 11:40 am. On this plane, the eight hour flight, I think I slept most of the time. But that ride is a big blur. Except for Scott, who got very sick the entire flight. That had to be miserable. When we arrived in Paris, we were shocked to see civilization that we knew, computers and such. We ate pasta meals at a cute little French restaurant in the airport. Our flight was delayed til the next day because of the problem in Doula. But I didn’t really care by this point, all I knew was we were almost to Mobile. I had to see a first aid man there and he didn’t speak a word of English. We stayed in a hotel, and I got to finally shower. I slept very well that night, the first time feeling air conditioning in a while. We woke up, and left for Houston. This flight was odd. I was the only one on our team to sit in the second to last row of the huge plane. I wasn’t even in the same cabin as anyone else. I had seen the flight movies in English and Spanish way too many times. I wasn’t tired enough to sleep, so I just thought. And wrote. I missed my boyfriend more than I would think, and I worried about him and his recent surgery the whole time. We finally got to Houston. We ate a quick lunch and got on our final flight. We then sat on the runway for three hours. Elizabeth and I had gotten to the stage of delusion and played hangman during this time. A crazy old lady accused us of stealing things, but we just all laughed about it. We arrived in Mobile, precisely 24 hours late.

Cameroon was a long and stressful journey. I have learned so much from that trip that I will never forget. The experience changed my life, it’s something I never want to forget. It strengthened my Christianity, big time. Through the labor and relationships, the weird and painful incidents, and our troubled journey home, Cameroon Mission 2008 will never leave my heart.

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