These last two days have been spent on a field visit around the Momo district in the North West province of Cameroon. This posting takes you up to this morning - access to the internet and to mobile phone was absent during these two days so this will all be coming in instalments!
We were picked up yesterday morning by Barnabus, our driver from the Presbyterian Church, at 7.45 and moved out into the rural countryside on track roads through settlements and past markets until at 10.30 we reached an area called Fum within the great sprawling village of Oshie, Although called a village it does not indicate that this is a gathered community – far from it! We left the car at the side of the road and began the climb up the hills to visit one of the "club" gardens. CDVTA (Community Development Volunteers for Technical Assistance), the MRDF partner we were visiting, particularly works with elderly people in these areas. A walk to share a drink with a neighbour is likely to be a two hour journey on foot so elderly people get particularly isolated. CDVTA have set up clubs for the old people to gather, usually once a week to share stories and concerns and food, with singing and a whole range of activities. One popular development is the club gardens where the elderly people share a garden which they tend and where they grow vegetables. Going to the garden provides some purpose for the day and offers further opportunities to meet people. I only wish I was as fit now as many of these people are in their 70's, 80's and beyond. Where they have club members who can no longer attend because of age and/or bad health, other club members are encouraged to visit them as well as the field officers of CDVTA. The CDVTA staff and volunteers do things such as trimming the nails of the people who can't get out when they do their home visits and these things are really important. Goat plans and bee hives are other bits of important work.
During the day we visited a number of club gardens on the hillsides and visited Fum and Bachaza club meetings where I got to join in the singing and dancing as well as visiting the garden where a number of elderly women were hard at work. We also linked in to a number of home visits. (Kirsty and Isabelle did more of these while I was singing and dancing!) I was honoured to visit the home of a woman who belonged to the Bachaza club who told us of the importance of the club to her, even though she was less able to visit now that she was blind. She blessed us with a traditional blessing, blowing into our hands which we had to hold to our hearts. I truly felt blessed to have met her. One of the garden visits was to a medicinal garden where one club member from Bemban showed us a number of herbs and plants and spoke to us of their medicinal powers. Peter was in his eighties and very sprightly indeed so you felt that the herbs were definitely helping. We next visited another man called Peter who lived up a real scramble on the hill. He was over 100 years old and sadly had not been able to leave his compound for 23 years. He told us how he felt that God had forgotten him and was ready to die. Two of his sons had already died and the other one had moved to Nigeria many years ago and he had not heard from him – fearing that he too had died. However he did say how good it was to belong to the club, whilst suggesting that people could visit him more often! It was very moving when he said that he had heard we were to visit the area and that if we had not gone to see him he would have felt his life was totally over and useless.
After a visit to another farm/garden we went to meet a whole lot of older people from the area who had come together near to where we were to stay the night. Hundreds had turned up who would have had to walk for hours to get there. The older people performed a number of traditional dances and there were speeches and prayers. A truly spectacular end to the day. We had been invited to stay at the house of one of the field staff, Alahjah, who is a devout Muslim. It felt a generous act for me to be asked to pray before we ate and he asked that I include his family in the prayers. Blessings galore and evidence of not a few small miracles enabled by donations to MRDF and the work of the local people.