The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
By Miriam Rutzen
[Editor's Note: Using the opportunity between jobs to pursue her dreams of travel over the course of one year, Miriam Rutzen of Sciota is sharing this series of her thoughts on her travels and stops along the way over six months, sixteen countries, three continents, and "a great deal of jet lag", she says.
"I made a bet with my dad that I would make it to all seven continents by age 27."
Miriam already had ventured to Australia in 2009 and Europe in 2013 leaving her with only the most difficult-Antarctica. Her first columns were Peru, and Toyko Japan, Hong Kong China, Thailand/Singapore, Germany, England/Scotland, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and this week is...
On Saturday, February 25 I boarded a plane at Chicago O'Hare bound for the final destination of Douala, Cameroon. Meeting me at the airport were two very familiar faces and what ensued was a month of adventures learning about life and culture in Buea, a city in the southwest English-speaking region of this equatorial country.
Cameroon is located on the western edge of central Africa, sharing borders with Nigeria, Chad, Republic of Central Africa, Equatorial Guinea, the Republic of the Congo, and Gabon.
Its' official languages are French and English and various regions are labeled as Anglophone and Francophone.
I spent most of my time in Buea, with a trip to the capital city of Yaound and flights out of Douala.
While Buea is in an English-speaking region, most people speak Pigeon English there, which is nearly impossible for me to understand.
Due to unequal treatment based on a French-heavy administration, teachers' and lawyers' in the Anglophone regions went on strike in November with their efforts including calling for ghost town days.
Located on the side of Mt. Cameroon (13,500 feet elevation at its' peak), Buea is a tropical city surrounded by tea farms, plantain farms, and rows upon rows of palm trees.
The average temperatures during the day are in the mid 70s to mid 80s and the evenings cool down into the 50s and 60s.
The rainy season occurs approximately from May to September with severe downpours in July.
The typical mode of transportation is taxi or private driver and motorcycles.
For longer trips we took a charter bus to Yaound.
Located about a 40 minute drive from the ocean, we also visited the city of Limbe.
Most main streets are lined with vendor booths selling anything from clothing to fresh fruits and vegetables, or cooking meat on a stick over an open fire.
In 2009 I went to Atlanta on a missions trip as a member of the Rozetta Baptist Church youth group.
We partnered with a youth group from Washington DC and with a group called Adventures in Missions (AIM).
The AIM leader we worked with the most, LaToya McLean, came to love the Rozetta community and over the years became a member while simultaneously shifting her area of focus to missions work in Buea, Cameroon.
In 2011, a group of young adults from Rozetta joined her in Cameroon for three weeks.
One of them was Rachael Allaman, 2011 West Central graduate.
While attending Greenville College to receive her elementary education degree, Rachael would return to Cameroon in the summers.
Upon college graduation she moved there for the school year to join Toya's Hope and Destiny Academy staff for nursery age through grade 2 (now grade 3: each year they hope to add a grade).
Initially the plan prior to the strike was for me to come for a month as a volunteer sports instructor as that is an unfulfilled need at their school.
Due to the strike and no school allowed in our region, we turned our efforts to home visits and hosting Vacation Bible Schools in local villages.
Kids are kids are kids all over the world. Super welcoming on the whole, every person
I met during my trip was wonderful.
The unique opportunity to work side by side with two Rozetta Baptist Church members while in Africa was as amazing as it sounded when the idea was first pitched.
Rachael has a tremendous love for an orphanage near Buea so after our VBS and school activities the two of us would go down to spend time with about 60 kids at Hotpec.
The moments were precious and numerous-the age range went from infant to mid-20s (many of the 20 somethings were attending the University of Buea).
From the first moment stepping into their facilities I felt very welcome.
The kids were very hardworking and disciplined, and incredibly joyful and wanting to play.
Moments varied from efforts to teach me how to dance to spontaneous singing.
There were tackle hugs, games of tag, and tons of soccer (ftbol) games!
(Typically a sport I loathe, I would have been crazy not to play and good news!
I've improved a bit...against 5-10 year olds.)
The hugs and laughter-filled moments are memories I will treasure for a lifetime.
The food and I didn't get along very well. It was far too spicy and oily.
Everything gets fried there.
I did try a snail-gross. It tasted like a rubber tire.
Everyone eats fish there. The whole entire fish. All that is left on the plate is the bones. I couldn't bring myself to do that.
Ghost town days proved relaxing but rather disconcerting as all the stores and markets completely closed and streets were empty.
Safety/precautionary measures were a vital part of this trip as it is a charged time.
While I never met anyone that was hostile, threats of violence have been made in our area.
Potholes, massive ones, accented every ride.
Bugs, including cockroaches were daily encountered.
Occasionally not having running water.
The potential for malaria was very real (I tested negative for it, whew).
And while it really should be under my favorites category, I suppose a challenge could be that we do not have internet in our region due to current government regulations.
I could call home for $.25/minute but for the most part I simply unplugged and stayed present in the moment.
To learn more about Hope and Destiny Academy, and the amazing work the Toya and Rachael are doing in Buea, follow Hope and Destiny Academy on Facebook.
I kept a daily journal while there, which can be read on my blog (see web address below) and captured some adorable moments on camera.
It's hard to express in this article the highs and lows of what I saw during my time in Cameroon, especially having just arrived back on Saturday, March 25.
I will say this: I saw complete poverty. I also saw tremendous joy in spite of the desperate circumstances.
My perspective on life is forever changed. Will I go back? Who knows. But I do know I am forever grateful to those at Rozetta Baptist Church and Grace Bible Church who made it financially possible for me to join in the missions efforts taking place in this corner of the world.
Photos of my travels can be found on Facebook or Instagram: mrutzen25 and more in depth stories are chronicled at www.miriamrutzen.blogspot.com.