Nov 19, 2014

11-03-14 Cops and Robbers

What a week! This is going down in the record book as one of the most exciting weeks I’ve had on my mission so far. And from the email it sounds like everything is going well “chez-nous” as the French would say. That’s sad that no trick-or-treaters came to the door. I was reminded on Halloween that I’m pumped to have a family in the future cuz it gives me an excuse to go do things like trick-or-treating, as well as dress up in a costume. But even in Africa I found a way to celebrate –but I’ll get to that in the email.
To answer your questions. I think I was honestly sent to Africa to learn how to simply relax and go through life without complicating things. Now hear me out on this one. On a mission there are a bunch of formalities, and procedures, and politically correct things to say, and “wrong” ways to teach. And if you’re not careful you’ll start to worry about following the procedures so much that you don’t focus on the people. For example, you’ll go into a lesson worrying more about perfectly presenting a scripture than helping answer someone’s question.
Another way to explain it is kinda like those kid pageant shows they put on tv. Do you guys remember those? How the moms are perfectionists and go crazy psycho! And if the little kid makes a mistake the moms get furious. And for us watching it’s like: “wooo woman, calm down it’s a little 5 year old girl that simply tripped –I mean you put her in like 10 inch heels – what are you expecting?” So you see, sometimes in life we go psycho when things just don’t work out (like those kid pageants). Maybe when a date isn’t as romantic as we expected, or we fail a test, or we don’t get a promotion at work, etc etc etc. The list is endless. And I don’t think that that is how God wants us to view life. In the perfectionist view – if it isn’t perfect, it’s a failure. I think being out here gave me a MASSIVE reality check.
In this mission, I like to think that we simply work. That’s the general attitude of the Americans here – we are here to work and that’s that, let’s not complicate it. We go out in the morning and do our best, then come home, share fun stories and laugh at the failures we had. Obviously we don’t want to sit in imperfection – but all of us get that we are imperfect for the time being. So you see, out here in Africa it is like the “front lines of the church” and because it’s such we aren’t worried about “political correctness” and perfect formality – we’re just looking to baptize and help others with the gospel.
Maybe that explains why I think I’m out here in Africa and not anywhere else. As well, I’m still so excited that I got to go to Africa and here is why:
So Monday of last week, the Yemin family invited us over to eat dinner with them. And this is a pretty well off family. So we go over there and have just an amazing meal with the family. Fish and Pork and Ndolé and manioc! The family has 6 kids, and 3 of the daughters formed a dance group –and they are actually pretty good. They dance at festivals to sponsor new products and such. While, we ate the dad showed us some of their videos. They’re a fun little family.
On Tuesday and Wednesday we had a bunch of meetings with the Mission President. We received two new Elders which meant a lot of meetings on training and welcoming. I think on Wednesday (there first day here) I heard “Welcome, we are excited to have you in the mission.” Almost 100 times. It’s like, ok guys, I think they feel welcomed enough!  Well they seemed a little shocked and overwhelmed, but it’ll be fun to get to know them in the coming months. President Monga had 3 big announcements he brought with him. One, Brazzaville (the Captial of Congo) is opening up to white people this next transfer which is in one week!  So Monday, I’ll let you know who the lucky Americans are. Two, by the end of the year we will receive 10 new missionaries! Three, if members don’t pick up the participation in missionary work – the missionaries will be removed from Douala (my current city)! Okay – confirmation – our mission president is crazy haha. But it’s exciting to see that he is putting some fire under the members to get them moving. Well after our minds blew up with all those announcements the week continued.
I heard another witch story that I thought I’d share with you. We crossed paths with a woman from California – well she is from Cameroon but lives in America currently. She told us that she had a friend here, and the friend never use to eat at people’s houses.  Every day she would go to restaurants and eat there. Until one day a friend of this friend convinced her to come over for soup. The young friend sat down and was really hesitant to take the soup. Finally after a bunch of persuasion the friend drank the soup and immediately felt sick. She cried, “What did you put in the soup?” The host replied, “babalou!” Which is a poison that comes from roots of a plant found in Nigeria! (Okay, pause, what?! A woman poisoned her friend. Why?) The host continued, “The poison will only kill a witch. I give it to every guest in my house, to keep myself safe.” Now, I don’t really believe African folk-lore, but I can buy this one, especially for Africa. Well the story continued and the girl friend was fine in the end – yeah!
As well, to go along with folk-lore, while in the marché some black magic went down. Some young lady wanted to get her hair braided and stuff. She asked for a very complicated hair style that was supposed to take hours. (some hair styles can literally take all day to finish) Well on this occasion the hair was styled in 30 minutes. The young girl exclaimed to the stylist, “How did you finish so fast? Did you just do a terrible job?” She picked up a mirror to look at it, and saw that the stylist had multiple arms!!! AHHH!!! No this isn’t a scene from “men in black”, just another crazy story. They make me laugh so much.
Now sometimes, these folk-lore make it into our lessons with Amis and then things go bizarre. I’ll have to tell you about another story next week.
Later on in the week. To celebrate Halloween, I had a brilliant idea. I wanted to carve an orange. It’s orange season here so you can buy a massive orange for 75 francs (less than 20 cents). So I bought the biggest orange I could find and went to work. My equipment consisted of a knife or two, and a spoon. And wouldn’t you know, it worked! So well in fact that Elder Hatch made one as well. We lite them up and in the dark, read a scary Edgar Alain Poe story that the senior couple printed off for us – “the tell tale heart”. I’ll send you a picture of the yellow-green-O-lanterns! (we call oranges, yellow-greens because they aren’t actually orange) I think I just created a new Halloween tradition for myself!
Now for the main story. This happened yesterday. Now the story will be in normal type and I will put my comments in parenthesis and italics. So I suggest you read the story first, skipping the comment, to understand well what happened. Then go back and read it with my comments. Alright here we go.
Sunday 2 November
It’s a normal fast Sunday as Elder Okon and I walk through marché central to arrive at our next teaching appointment.  Now Sundays in Africa are a little different than America. Everything is just void on the streets. The shops are closed and there isn’t that much traffic, or people for the matter. Today in the marché there are maybe 50 people spread out on the streets. On a normal day I make sure my camera is zipped inside my bag so it doesn’t get stolen while I walk through the marché. But today I rationalize; my camera is safe in the outer pocket of my bag. And as I can see there are no crowds of people. I can see everyone.
(Moments before entering the marche I had the idea that we should take a taxi, but rationalized again, that we didn’t have enough money)
Well, we keep trucking along and as we our leaving the marché territory I feel a slight bump on my side and a tug on my bag. Just ever so slight.
(At this moment I was literally thinking about wanting to take a picture of how empty the roads are to show you guys what it‘s like. That was obviously an inspired thought from God)
I quickly brush my hand over the pocket to check that the camera is there, and to my surprise it is not! In that very moment I turn around to see if it dropped and to my surprise even more, I see a 30 year old 6ft tall African man slipping it into his back pocket. He is 10 feet away from me and we are walking in opposite directions.
(now pause and consider the situation, my companion is walking in front and didn’t know what was going on, so he would be no help. As well this man is considerably bigger and older than me. He isn’t massive but he is definitely bigger and older. As well, I’m the foreigner in the situation. I think, in my head the following event was purely instinct. The reaction was literally instantaneous. When you read the story it might sound like two separate actions, but it was more like one fluid motion. In my head I had only one thought. If I lose that camera, I just lost a lot of memories !)
So there goes Elder Johnson. Full on sprint after the man, not knowing what he will do, only that he will get his camera back. Getting closer, the man is alerted to my pursuit and starts running as well. But, it’s too late – I’m in striking distance. Continuing the chase, I reach out and grab the collar of his jersey, determined that he isn’t leaving. I pull him back, as I continue my full on sprint forward, causing the jersey to rip, slighty.
(Again pause, I have a number of choices here. The best option is probably to just pull the camera from his pocket and let him be. That would be the most non-combative option and it wouldn’t make me look like a bad guy. But, what do I do? Probably the most aggressive option. Yeah Johnson, that sounds like a good option haha !)
I literally jump forward and instinctively wrap my left arm around his neck. The physics behind it all causes us to get some air time! Now on the sidewalk, I have this big black man in a head lock and I’m yelling, «Donne-moi l’appareil ! »
(Okay, well I’m committed now. I just started a fight with this man. Before he probably wouldn’t have harmed me, but now a little white boy is attacking him and he might think I’m trying to kill him! If that doesn’t give him a reason to punch me, I don’t know what would. So I decide, there is no going back now. If I let him go I might get hurt – so you just keep him there)
I keep holding him in this head lock as he squirms to get free, repeating the same demand. At this point he gets twisted around and grabs my shirt by the abs.
(Well I just lost that advantage on him. The first thought it this – he might have a knife and he is going to stab you any second. Get ready…set…okay, this is stupid! BUT MY CAMERA!)
(that night in telling the story to the other elders, we joking said « god was watching that fight and thought, ohh well I guess I better make the knife in this guys pocket disappear so Elder Johnson doesn’t die » haha.)
Afraid of being stabbed, I push him off me and demand the camera! In the chaos of it all he had thrown it on the ground behind me. « C’est la » is his response.
(Telling Elder Okon about it later, he told me that the man most likely threw it on the ground to make me look like a fool. You know, a young kid drops his camera and over-reacts by jumping on a random black man and choking him.)
I quickly took my camera and walked off, making sure to keep looking at him as I go.
(Now, I may or may not have done the « come at me bro » gesture in walking past him haha !!)
Unnoticed before by me, all 50 people in the marché are now looking at me. Cheering and congratulating me haha! The old mamas are saying “c’est ca mon fils!” (that’s how you do it, my son) and the punk moto-taxi drivers cheering and giving me thumbs up! I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like a total boss. That night I prayed and said, “God thanks for keeping us safe, even when we do really stupid stuff”. Well I got my camera back, and earned some major street cred.
(So it looked like those CQC (close Quarter Combat) practices paid off. SO SICK! While walking away, this was my thought – maybe law enforcement could be my career path – that was kinda fun! Haha)
I don’t know if I’ll ever have a story more intense than that! Hopefully that doesn’t scare you too much. Just know that I’m safe out here and I’m extremely happy. I doubt God would let anything happen to me. I love all you guys and can’t wait to share all those memories I saved!  Keep safe, especially when jumping on big people’s back haha. I love you guys, once more and wish you the best for the second term of school!
Ps – maybe God sent me to Africa to learn how to become a good story teller?
And we came across a bunch of tires burning in a cemetery. Kinda strange.

A highway we walk on sometimes.

Our yellow-green-O-lanterns. Mine is on the left.

A cow in a dumpster. Cow! Whatcha be doing?